Punter feared for his life during knife attack

Updated: August 2, 2007, 11:21 AM ET
Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. -- A college football player attacked by a knife-wielding man broke down in sobs on the stand Wednesday after re-enacting the assault.

Rafael Mendoza, a starting punter for Northern Colorado, was left with a 3- to 5-inch gash in his kicking leg in the attack last Sept. 11 but later returned to the team.

Mitch Cozad
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiThe district attorney accused Cozad (left) of wanting to be a "big man on campus."

Police and prosecutors allege the then backup punter, Mitch Cozad, stabbed Mendoza in a bid to get the starter's job.

Cozad is on trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault. His attorney, however, has said another student attacked Mendoza.

Mendoza testified he had just gotten out of his car at his apartment when he heard footsteps behind him, was hit hard in the head and fell to the ground.

Mendoza said he saw a man swing at him with a knife, miss and then swing again, hitting him in the leg. The attacker was dressed all in black, wearing a sweatshirt with a hood cinched up so that only the eyes were visible.

Prosecutor Michele Meyer asked Mendoza to demonstrate to jurors his positioning during the attack. Mendoza climbed off the witness stand to demonstrate on the courtroom floor.

After he finished, Mendoza showed how he was attacked, using a yellow highlighter as the knife.

The attack took about a minute and a half, he said, and the first thing that entered his mind afterward was: "Why would someone do this? I thought it was because of my car. I didn't know someone would want a car so bad."

When asked what his biggest concern was after the attack, Mendoza began to choke up. He said he thought of his fiancee, Meghan Gregory, upstairs in his apartment.

"All this happened, and she had no clue. My family. My football career," Mendoza said.

Asked if he was in fear for his life, he said, "I was."

Later, as Meyer replayed Mendoza's labored, panting 911 call from his cell phone, Mendoza broke down in sobs, and Judge Marcelo Kopcow called a recess.

In the hallway afterward, Mendoza clung to Gregory and sobbed. His family quickly surrounded the couple, hugging them.

"To listen to that tape really hit me more than any other time," Mendoza's father Rafael Sr. said. "I cried. I lost it. I won't lie."

Shortly afterward, Kopcow adjourned for the day.

Mendoza returned to the witness stand Thursday.

Earlier Wednesday, defense attorney Joseph Gavaldon told Kopcow that Cozad's mother, Suzanne Cozad, overheard someone from the district attorney's office ask a witness to lie and asked the judge to sanction that office.

Called to the witness stand while the jury was on break, Suzanne Cozad said she overheard the DA's representative ask a woman, "Are you the Verizon expert?"

When the woman replied she was a substitute, the DA's representative said, "You don't tell them you're not a Verizon expert," Suzanne Cozad said.

She then said, "I don't know why someone would want to put my son in jail for 48 years with a lie."

Kopcow didn't allow her to elaborate. Under questioning by District Attorney Kenneth Buck, Suzanne Cozad said she did not hear the DA's representative use the word "lie," and Kopcow dismissed the complaint.

In his opening statement Tuesday, Gavaldon blamed the stabbing on another Northern Colorado student, Kevin Aussprung, who told police he was with Cozad that night but did not participate in the attack.

Gavaldon said Aussprung, a soccer player, was a "football wannabe" who did not like Mendoza.

He said prosecutors jumped to the conclusion that Cozad attacked Mendoza because Cozad's car was used.

Aussprung's attorney, Bill Crosier, denied his client was the attacker.

"It's absolutely false," Crosier told The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding he was "flabbergasted ... offended ... disgusted at the innuendo."

Aussprung is expected to testify later in the trial.

Aussprung, who lived in the same dorm as Cozad, testified at a January hearing that Cozad offered him $100 to take care of his car while Cozad handled "some business." Aussprung testified that 15 to 20 minutes after arriving at a parking lot, Cozad ran back to the car and said they had to leave.

In a separate affidavit, Aussprung has said Cozad placed what appeared to be a knife into a plastic bag after returning to the car.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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