Ex-Northern Colorado punter Cozad sentenced to seven years
GREELEY, Colo. -- A judge sentenced former Northern Colorado backup punter Mitch Cozad to seven years in prison Tuesday for stabbing a rival in what prosecutors said was a brutal attempt to take over the starter's role.
"Clearly, this was deliberate to hurt him, and you succeeded," Weld County District Judge Marcelo Kopcow told Cozad as he announced the sentence.
"The goal is to not ruin your life," Kopcow said. "I would like you to succeed in your life."
Prosecutors said Cozad ambushed starting punter Rafael Mendoza on the night of Sept. 11, 2006. Mendoza was left with a deep gash in his kicking leg but later returned to the team.
Cozad was convicted in August of second-degree assault but acquitted of the more serious charge of attempted first-degree murder.
Cozad, 22, of Wheatland, Wyo., could have faced up to 16 years in prison on the assault conviction.
He spoke briefly Tuesday, thanking family and friends for their support and then offering an apology.
"I am very sorry to everyone for any pain and suffering you've endured. My hopes and prayers are to Mr. Mendoza and his family that they don't suffer anymore as a result of this ordeal," he said.
At the trial, Mendoza testified he could not see who attacked him in the dimly lighted parking lot. The assailant was dressed in black from head to toe and had a hood cinched up so only the eyes were visible.
Defense attorney Joseph "Andy" Gavaldon had argued it was another university student who stabbed Mendoza, not Cozad.
Before Cozad was sentenced, prosecutors called four people Tuesday to make statements, including Mendoza and his mother, Florence.
Rafael Mendoza said he was convinced Cozad wanted to kill him.
"Even though he wasn't convicted of it, his intentions were clear," Mendoza said, fighting tears. "I'll never forget that. I've spend long nights since then waking up in a cold sweat, having nightmares, thinking I was going through that again."
"No matter how much time you give Mitch, it won't be enough," she said. "I don't believe he'll ever change. I don't know him as well as I thought. I'm suggesting you give him as much time as possible. I've been in fear way too long."
Mendoza's mother also asked Kopcow to give Cozad the maximum sentence.
Mendoza later said he thought Cozad's apology rang hollow.
"I think it might have been what his lawyer told him to say," Mendoza said. "It seems scripted. He might feel something, but there was no reaction from him when he was convicted."
Before issuing sentence, Kopcow urged Cozad face up to his actions.
"I hope one day you do take responsibility, if you haven't done so already, and not be deceitful to yourself or to your family and friends regarding your involvement in this case," Kopcow said.
"It snowballs because of your actions in this case -- your family and friends, his family and friends are all so deeply affected by your actions," Kopcow continued. "I am not going to speculate as to your motive -- whether your motive was to advance your football career. If that in fact was your motive, that is a sad state of affairs for this community," he said.
Gavaldon said his client still planned to appeal.
"He's doing well under the circumstances -- as well as a 22-year-old who now knows that he's sentenced to the department of corrections for a significant period of time," Gavaldon said. "It's difficult."
Cozad's fiance, Michelle Weydert, wept as he was brought into the courtroom and blinked back tears after he made his statement.
"He's the blessing of my life," she said afterward. "I love him, and I'll always support him. That's from my heart. I know many families have been affected by this event. I pray for a better day every day for everyone."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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