Former punter Cozad 'concerned' as stabbing trial nears

Updated: July 23, 2007, 6:03 PM ET
Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. -- A week before his trial is scheduled to begin, a former Northern Colorado backup punter accused of stabbing the starter is nervous and concerned, his attorney said Monday.

Mitch Cozad is charged with attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault in a Sept. 11 attack on Rafael Mendoza. Police have said they believe Cozad, of Wheatland, Wyo., stabbed Mendoza in an attempt to get the starting job.

The trail is set for July 30. After a pretrial conference Monday, defense lawyer Joseph Gavaldon said Cozad is "very concerned." If convicted of attempted murder, he could face up to 48 years in prison.

"He's only 22. He's got his life in front of him and they could take it away, Gavaldon said. "This is a very serious case."

Asked if Cozad was nervous, Gavaldon said, "Absolutely."

"He does a lot of praying," he said. "They're going to have to put on a case and we're going to have to defend against them vigorously."

Gavaldon said he was not optimistic about a last-minute plea deal.

"There's no plea agreement," Gavaldon said. "We're going to trial. That's the bottom line."

Weld County District Attorney Kenneth Buck said, "We have confirmed that we are going to trial."

He said he was not surprised by the scrutiny the case has drawn.

"Athletes and dogfights seem to get a lot of media attention," Buck said.

Mendoza's mother, Florence Mendoza, and sister, Rosie Mendoza-Calderon, were in court Monday, listening intently as both sides went over logistics for the trial.

Florence Mendoza said she was happy the case is going in front of a jury.

"This is what has to happen," she said. "We have to trust in the legal system."

Florence Mendoza said she may one day be able to forgive Cozad, but not yet.

"There's always got to be forgiveness. How long it takes? I don't know," she said. "I wouldn't want my son to be in his place. I'm glad my son didn't make the wrong choice."

Rafael Mendoza has been going through rehab and therapy this summer and is looking forward to the new season.

"Football is going to be good for him," the mother said. "I'm hoping for better things in his mind than what happened."

Rafael Mendoza returned to the team two weeks after the stabbing and averaged 39.9 yards on 56 punts, despite not being able to fully extend the leg.

"I ask him how it's going and sometimes he'll say, 'I'm struggling still,'" his mother said.

Mendoza-Calderon added, "He can't kick as well as he used to, but he's getting there."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE