‘Then I object to every piece of evidence’; Defense questions investigation on first day of bar shooting trial

ST. GEORGE — Trial began Monday in 5th District Court for Bronson Joseph Flynn who stands accused of shooting a man to death outside the One and Only bar in St. George.

Washington County Prosecutor Jerry Jeager examines a witness during the trial of Bronson Flynn, accused in the 2018 shooting death of Spencer Tafua outside the One and Only bar, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

After more than a year of wading through pre-trial motions and hearings, the trial opened Monday for Flynn, 26, of Ivins, who was charged with first-degree felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and a number of misdemeanor drug and weapons charges.

The investigation involved an incident reported shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2018 when police responded to the bar on reports of gunfire and an individual brandishing a gun.

The shooting was reportedly a result of a dispute between bar patrons that started in an area in front of the bar. The shooting itself happened outside the establishment in front of an adjacent business, killing 34-year-old Spencer Maluafiti Tafua.

Washington County Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger opened for the state, saying that Tafua was shot in cold blood after exchanging words in the parking lot of the bar. He also said the shot hit Tafua in the chest, killing him instantly.

“This man right here, Bronson Flynn, shot him with an AR-15 rifle,” Jaeger said, adding that Tafua loved his family, which is the reason he was at the bar that night, hanging out with several family members.

When the first officer arrived on scene, “there were people running everywhere,” Jaeger said, adding that Tafua “had his hands up when he was shot.”

Jaeger then told the jury that just before the shooting took place, “the fight was done, it was over — for everyone except the defendant.”

Flynn’s defense attorney, Trevor Terry, began his arguments by playing the 911 recording from the night of the shooting that sounded “chaotic and terrifying, an active shooter at a bar,” Terry said.

He then asked the jury “why, as defense counsel, would I play that.”

O’brien Tafua, the shooting victim’s older brother, testifies during the trial of Bronson Flynn, accused in the One and Only bar shooting in 2018, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

In all of the chaos, Terry said, in the end, the shooting took place due to his client acting upon a perceived threat, “a reasonable perception that he was in an imminent threat of danger.”

“That’s what it is going to boil down to folks,” he said.

Terry went on to say that during trial, the jury is tasked with figuring out the five “Ws” he said, the who, what, when, where and why.

The first four, he said, “we have those figured out — it’s the last one, the ‘why'” that is in question.

Terry said the defense’s position is that Flynn shot the man, “we aren’t denying that — it’s why he shot him that’s in question.”

Terry also clarified with one of the witnesses that the gun Flynn was carrying that night was not an AR-15 as the prosecution stated, but a Springfield large caliber rifle.

Multiple witnesses took the stand to recount what they had witnessed the night of the shooting, saying it all started in the smoking area just outside of the bar where Flynn and Tafua got into a verbal altercation that turned physical.

One witness, Spencer Tafua’s brother, O’Brien Tafua, testified that he attempted to de-escalate the situation before the shooting and gave an emotional account of the events that took place when his brother was shot.

“I just hear the pop. I just saw Spencer turn around and fall down,” O’brien Tafua said.

A second witness took the stand, Keith Owens, who began his testimony by saying he was at the bar during the incident, and recounted what he saw that night.

Keith Owens testifies for the state during the trial involving the 2018 One and Only bar shooting in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, March 2, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

During cross-examination, Terry asked the witness if his client was beaten, to which Owens said, Flynn “got hit hard” and fell, at which point someone grabbed Spencer Tafua in a bear hug, telling him the situation was “over.”

Terry also asked Owens, who’s cell phone went missing during the incident and was later found that same night, if there were any photos on it that were taken during the night by someone other than himself, which Owens confirmed.

Owens said they were general photos, one showing someone holding Spencer Tafua, along with photos of the crowd.

Terry asked the witness when he was interviewed by police, which turned out to be several months after the incident, despite the witness providing his information to officers that night.

The state objected, saying the timeline of when he was interviewed by police was irrelevant.

At that point, the jury was excused from the courtroom and arguments began relating to the objection and evidence.

Prosecutor Mark Barlow said it sounded like the defense was putting the investigation on trial by questioning the witness on the delay in police interviewing him.

District Court Judge G. Michael Westfall asked Terry if he was trying to put the investigation on trial and said the issues with the investigation that he is referring to are irrelevant to the case.

Terry said it’s the evidence police have gathered that is being used to convict his client, “and if officers were taking shortcuts, then it’s important for the jury to know about that.”

Terry also said if the quality of the evidence is irrelevant, then “I object to every piece of evidence the state submits at this trial,” adding that the evidence doesn’t matter so it shouldn’t be presented.

He added the defense doesn’t have all of the evidence because of the corners cut during the investigation as well as evidence that was erased over or destroyed prior to trial.

The attorney was referring to the recordings of calls taken when a hotline was set up by police that he requested copies of in a discovery request sent Jan. 28, 2019.

Kristen Robinson being cross-examined by defense attorney Trevor Terry during the trial involving the 2018 One and Only bar shooting in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, March 2, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Those recordings, however, were erased by the time the request was received on May 19 — nearly five months after it was sent, Terry said.

Westfall then asked the state to explain why Terry can ask detectives about the specifics during cross-examination but he can’t ask the witness if police ever contacted him.

Terry said the state opened the door to the question when Barlow asked if the witness ever spoke to law enforcement, and Westfall agreed when he overruled the state’s objection and allowed the questioning to continue.

The witness stepped down with the possibility of being questioned further later in the trial.

The state will have a chance to address the defense’s claims with testimony scheduled as the trial proceeds.

Kristen Robinson also took the stand for the state, and she described how she observed the altercation between the suspect and the victim, and then observed the defendant raise the gun in the air and people running.

The witness was not in a position where she could see the shooting; she only heard the gunshot and then heard people running, “it sounded like thunder.”

“I didn’t see the gunshot or any of that,” she said.

Poor lighting prevented her from seeing the suspect’s facial features, but she said she could tell it was the suspect by his body language and clothing.

Ray Johnson testifies for the state during the trial involving the 2018 One and Only bar shooting in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, March 2, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The state also called Ray Johnson, a friend of the suspect’s who was at the bar that night. Flynn went to the bar shortly before last call, he said, and they hung out for a short while until the suspect went out to the smoking area just outside of the bar.

When the witness followed minutes later, he heard the men in a verbal altercation at first, he said, and then he saw shoving and pushing before “both were swinging at each other.”

The friend pulled the defendant away and started walking toward the door when he noticed two to three other men behind them. When Johnson asked the doorman if they were good before leaving, he said the doorman told them, “you’ll be good when you walk the f**k off.”

The friend said minutes later he heard someone yell “gun” and went toward the defendant in the parking lot and saw the gun when Flynn turned around.

During cross-examination, Johnson said when he found the defendant before the shooting, there were five guys that surrounded Flynn and “jumped on him.”

“Would it be fair to say (Flynn) was surrounded,” Terry asked.

“For sure,” Johnson said.

Terry asked if Flynn was backing up toward the bar to get away from the group of men “in a move of self-preservation” and if the witness was frightened when the group began closing in on the defendant.

Johnson replied with “yes” to both questions.

The trial continues Tuesday with the state calling multiple witnesses.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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