NAU shooting trial: Jurors sent home for the day

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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

It was a surprising turn of events in the NAU shooting trial Wednesday, as the jury was sent home for the day while court officials addressed an issue that has come up in the trial.

Former Northern Arizona University student Steven Jones is charged with first-degree murder and assault for fatally shooting one student and wounding three others.  If convicted, Jones faces life in prison.

Jones contends that he fired his handgun in self-defense after being punched in the face by intoxicated people during a confrontation in October 2015 near the university's campus in Flagstaff.

[Special section: NAU shooting]

On Tuesday, closing arguments wrapped up, and the case went to the jury.

But on Wednesday, the judge called an impromptu hearing to discuss a problem that may affect the way jurors decide Jones' fate.

At issue is a statement made by the prosecution during closing arguments that the judge feels gave jurors a false impression about when Jones started making claims of self-defense.

During closing arguments Tuesday, the prosecutor said Jones didn't start saying he thought the group of students outside the party was going to "kill" him until he was sitting down with an officer for an interview.

The defense had taken issued with the timeline presented by the prosecution on Tuesday, but the judge let it go.  By Wednesday morning, the judge told counsel he checked court transcripts and found the prosecutor's statement to the jury "patently inaccurate."

"Those statements were made in the back of the patrol car just minutes after Mr. Jones was arrested," said the judge.  "He made three other statements, I think one of them, in fact, was using the word "kill."

The jury was not allowed to hear audio recorded from inside a police car where Jones could be heard making the statements the judge was referencing.

"My concern is that the jury is left with the impression that he never made any statements that could legitimately be argued as giving him a justification for the actions that he took that night," said the judge.

"The statement that it wasn't until later, of course, when he had an audience with the police at a police station, on the record, that he started talking about well these people were trying to kill me. It's patently inaccurate. He made that statement minutes after he was arrested and put into the back of a patrol car," stated Judge Dan Slayton with the Coconino County Superior Court.

The judge sent the jury home and said there will be no more deliberations until this issue is resolved.

The prosecution and defense have to write up how they think the judge should handle this problem, but the judge feels this can be fixed without declaring a mistrial.

All parties will be back in court Thursday at 9 a.m.

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