Attorneys for former NAU student ask to withdraw from case
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Two attorneys representing a former Northern Arizona University student charged in a fatal shooting at the school have asked to withdraw from the case.
The request comes after a state Supreme Court committee admonished Ryan Stevens and Bruce Griffen for once representing one of the shooting victims and now representing the defendant, Steven Jones. The committee said it found probable cause to believe the attorneys violated rules of professional conduct, including delaying a murder trial.
Jones’ retrial on murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from the October 2015 shooting is scheduled to start in March. That date likely will change if a judge accepts the attorneys’ request to withdraw.
Jones acknowledges firing the shots that killed 20-year-old Colin Brough and injured three other students, but he maintains it was in self-defense. Jurors were deadlocked in his first trial.
Stevens and Griffen filed a motion Tuesday to withdraw from Jones’ defense team, leaving in place Burges McCowan as Jones’ consulting attorney. They said it would be unacceptable for them to ask for Jones’ retrial to be delayed indefinitely for a fifth time so they could continue representing him.
“Steven’s rights and the dignity of the criminal justice system must come first,” Stevens wrote in a statement.
Stevens and Griffen haven’t decided whether to ask for a hearing before the high court’s presiding disciplinary judge on the admonishment, saying it might take years and not be of any help to Jones.
Coconino County Attorney William Ring said late Tuesday that his office is ready to try the case in March.
One of the victims’ mothers, Kimberly Prato, alleged nearly a year ago that Stevens and Griffen had a conflict of interest because they met with her son early on in the case. Her son, Nick, was shot in the neck.
The State Bar initially dismissed the allegations, citing a lack of clear and convincing evidence the attorneys violated ethical rules. Prato appealed, and the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee under the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal and ordered the State Bar to investigate further.
The State Bar then recommended the order of admonition. The committee accepted it and said Griffen and Stevens must pay the associated costs.
Prato was reassured by the decision. “The victims, families, witnesses and students of NAU have waited too long for justice,” she wrote in a statement to The Associated Press.
Prosecutors say Jones was the aggressor and could have walked away from a late-night fight instead of retrieving a gun from his vehicle and firing.
Stevens and Griffen successfully sought a delay in the case last May because they said they could not focus on defending Jones while the State Bar looked into the conflict allegations.
Coconino County Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton said he considered asking the attorneys to withdraw but didn’t because it could lead to claims of ineffective counsel and potentially a third trial.
Stevens and Griffen have denied a conflict exists. Griffen said he sought guidance from the State Bar ethics hotline before the two joined Jones’ defense team. They said they met with Nick Prato once and communicated with his mother in the two months after the shooting, according to documents released by the State Bar. But they said none of the information shared would harm Nick Prato in the criminal case.
Prato’s mother disagreed, saying they communicated more extensively with her son and should not have been allowed to represent Jones without written consent from Nick Prato.
This story has been corrected to show one of Steven Jones’ attorneys is Burges McCowan, not Bruce McCowan.