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Defense rests after calling three witnesses; closing arguments coming

GREELEY, Colo. -- Prosecutors and the defense finished their
closing statements Tuesday and sent to the jury the case of a
former Northern Colorado backup punter accused of trying to kill
the starter.

Court recessed Tuesday before the jury had a chance to
deliberate. Earlier in the day, the defense rested after calling
only three witnesses.

Mitch Cozad, who did not testify, is charged with attempted
first-degree murder and second-degree assault in the attack on
Rafael Mendoza last Sept. 11. Police and prosecutors have said it
was a bid to get the starter's job.

The prosecution rested its case earlier Tuesday. Defense
attorney Joseph Gavaldon asked the judge to dismiss the attempted
murder charge, saying prosecutors did not prove their case. The
judge refused.

"The defendant was willing to do anything to play football. No
matter how hard he tried on the football field he could not compete
with Mr. Mendoza at his skill level and the only option was to take
it off the field and that's what he did," prosecutor Michele Meyer
said during closing statements.

"He tried to kill him. Swiped at him twice, couldn't get him,
so he stabbed him in the back of the leg," she said.

Mendoza was attacked outside his apartment 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 attacked him. Gavaldon has
claimed it was another Northern Colorado student and not Cozad.

"He pulled the wool over their eyes, he pulled the wool over
the district attorney's eyes because he's not charged," Gavaldon
said of the other student during closing statements. "The issue in
this case is if Mr. Cozad stabbed Rafael Mendoza, there is
reasonable doubt."

Prosecutors spent more than four days laying out their case
against Cozad, calling police, a former girlfriend of Cozad's,
other Northern Colorado students and Mendoza himself as witnesses.

Gavaldon, by contrast, took only a few hours, calling two
character witnesses and a third who contradicted testimony of a
prosecution witness.

Cozad's aunt, Sandee Kitchen, described Cozad as caring, gentle
and helpful. "He's like a teddy bear. He's not aggressive," she
said.

Randy Yaussi, director of the Outward Bound program at the
University of Wyoming, said he has known Cozad for 3½ years and
described him as polite and caring.

"I have never, ever seen anything that would make me think he's
aggressive," he said.

Cozad's fiancee, Michelle Weydert, contradicted earlier
testimony by Angela Vogel, a former girlfriend of Cozad's.

Vogel said Cozad had come to her dorm room on Sept. 4 dressed in
black and crying, anxious and frustrated.

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

Weydert testified Cozad was with her that night, was not dressed
in black and made no references to a ninja.

Vogel had testified Monday that she lied to police at Cozad's
request, first saying Cozad was with her at the time Mendoza was
stabbed.

She said she quickly regretted that lie and 15 minutes later
told investigators Cozad had left for part of the evening and did
not contact her again until shortly after 10 p.m.

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

During cross-examination by 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.

Vogel also testified that Cozad once asked her what she thought
would hurt most, "getting hit by a car, getting beat by a baseball
bat or getting stabbed?"

Prosecutors showed a series of text messages they said Cozad
sent Vogel, including, "We were not apart between 8 and 12."

In a Sept. 12 interview with police, Cozad said his text
messages were meant to comfort Vogel, according to an audio tape of
the session played in court.

"I was saying, 'It's OK. Just be strong,'" Cozad said on the
tape.

Later in the interview, a detective accused Cozad of asking
Vogel to lie and said, "You know what happened to Rafael."

Cozad's mother, Suzanne, who was present for the interview,
interrupted and said, "At this point, I think we need an
attorney."

"I'm done," Mitch Cozad said on the tape.