Police commander describes finding knife on roadside

Updated: August 6, 2007, 9:58 PM ET
Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. -- A woman who dated a Northern Colorado backup punter accused of trying to kill the starter testified Monday she lied to police at his request.

At first, Angela Vogel told police that Mitch Cozad was with her at the time starter Rafael Mendoza was stabbed, but she said she quickly regretted that lie and 15 minutes later told investigators that Cozad had left for part of the evening.

Cozad, of Wheatland, Wyo., is on trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault in the Mendoza stabbing last Sept. 11. Police and prosecutors have alleged Cozad attacked Mendoza in a bid to get the starter's job.

Vogel said Cozad led her to believe that a player had been jumped by a group of people and she didn't learn Mendoza had been stabbed until police interviewed her.

"I didn't know what was going on," she said. "I was lying to the cops."

Mendoza was attacked in the parking lot of his apartment complex in Evans, a small town adjacent to Greeley. He was left with a deep gash in his kicking leg but later returned to the team. He testified he could not see who it was that attacked him.

Vogel said she and Cozad were together in the early part of the evening of Sept. 11, but he got a phone call and said he had to leave.

It wasn't clear when that call came, but at 10:06 p.m., Cozad called and they met up again, later going out for tacos, she said.

Police have said Mendoza was stabbed at about 9:30 p.m.

When police interviewed her on campus on Sept. 12, Vogel said: "I did what Mitch told me to, [told officers] that we were together, and I didn't say we went out for tacos."

Later, she said: "I went back to my dorm room and broke down. I was like, 'Oh my God, what did I just do?'"

She said she sought out police on her own to change her story and ran into detectives in the elevator on the way to meet with them. She said the decision to talk again was "kind of mutual."

"They were finding holes in my story, and I said 'I'm coming clean,"' she said.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Joseph "Andy" Gavaldon, Vogel said she got scared when police accused her of being with Cozad on a crosstown trip to Mendoza's apartment the night of the stabbing.

"They started treating you as a suspect," Gavaldon said.

"Yes, they did," she replied.

Vogel also said that when she and Cozad went for tacos on the night of Sept. 11, the subject of him and his serious relationship to a girl back in Wyoming came up. Cozad asked if they could still be friends if he did not break up with her, and she said no, she testified.

"I don't think you can be friends with someone you have such strong feelings for," she said. "I cared for Mitch very, very much."

Prosecutors showed a series of text messages that they said Cozad sent Vogel on Sept. 12 and 13. They included:

• "We were not apart between 8 and 12."

• "Please be strong for me did u say we got food?"

• "U can stop all of this."

When the prosecutor asked Vogel if Cozad ever spoke to her about stabbing someone, she said he once asked her, "What would you think would hurt the most, getting hit by a car, getting beat by a baseball bat or getting stabbed?"

"I thought it was very strange," she said.

She also talked about how a week before the stabbing, Cozad arrived at her dorm room dressed in black and was crying, anxious and talking about being frustrated.

"He talked about if his numbers kept increasing he could go pro, [and] the coaches were taking that away from him," she said.

She also said: "He told me he got to be a ninja that night. 'Oh my God, what I almost did tonight.' I thought he was suicidal."

Just before adjourning for the day, the prosecution played a 44-minute video of Cozad's interview with Evans Police Detective George Roosevelt that took place in the early morning hours of Sept. 12.

Roosevelt asked Cozad if he knew anybody who would do something like that to Mendoza.

"No, sir," Cozad answered.

Roosevelt drummed his pen against the table and asked him, "Pretty odd, huh?"

Cozad replied, "Yes, sir."

Cozad told police that his mother had called him from Wyoming and told him that police were asking about his car, which Cozad that night told police had been stolen.

Later on in the interview, Roosevelt mentioned to Cozad that his car was stolen on the same night a teammate got stabbed.

"As shady as it looks, that's [a] coincidence," Cozad said. "It makes me sick to my stomach the way it looks like that."

Roosevelt testified earlier Monday that he found a black hooded sweat shirt in Cozad's dorm room hours after the stabbing. Mendoza has said his attacker was dressed in a black hooded sweat shirt cinched up around the face so only the eyes were visible.

Former detective Angela Quinn testified last week that another black hooded sweat shirt was found in a later search Cozad's room, but it had white stripes on the sleeves, which did not match the garment Mendoza and others described.

Leo Carrillo, who was Evans interim police chief at the time, described finding a black-handled knife with a 5-inch blade beside a road on Oct. 2. Carrillo has since retired.

Scott Pratt, a fingerprint specialist for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, testified he could not find any usable prints on it.

The trial entered its second week Monday. Prosecutors said they plan to wrap up Tuesday, and the case is expected to go to the jury later in the week.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press