ST. GEORGE — Multiple detectives testified Wednesday before court proceedings moved to the parking lot of the One and Only bar for a crime scene recreation as the trial continues for Bronson Joseph Flynn, who stands accused of shooting a man to death in St. George.
St. George Police Detective Adam Olmstead was first to take the stand Wednesday and testify for jurors in 5th District Court where Flynn, 26, is on trial for first-degree murder involving a shooting that killed 34-year-old Spencer Maluafiti Tafua at the One and Only bar shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2018. Police responded to the bar on reports of gunfire and an individual brandishing a gun.
Olmstead testified that he went to the crime scene early that morning to process it for evidence and took custody of the Springfield rifle that was found sticking out of the front seat of the defendant’s car as evidence.
In the 30-round capacity clip, Olmstead said he removed 26 Winchester 5.56 rounds and unchambered one round from the barrel of the gun that was ready to fire.
He also found an earring worn by Tafua that was dislodged during the incident, which Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger referred to in his opening arguments Monday, saying the round hit Tafua with such force that it knocked the earring from his ear.
St. George Police Lt. Jordan Minnick, a firearms instructor and ATF task force officer, also took the stand to testify for the state. He told the jury that an inspection of the rifle revealed it was “a completely stock” rifle designed to accommodate modifications, but that none had been made to the gun. The 30-round magazine is one that is sold with the rifle, he said, adding that it provides the advantage of not having to load it as often.
He also said it was Springfield’s version of the AR-15, as many gun manufacturers sell guns similar to that make and style.
When asked how many steps the gun is away from firing, Minnick said “three.”
First, the gun is taken off safety, then it is charged, or a round is racked into the barrel, and the trigger is pulled.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Trevor Terry asked if the Springfield is a popular rifle, which Minnick said it is, and asked if the sound the gun makes when the pump-action is deployed is unique, saying “it’s a distinctive sound, isn’t it?”
“Yes, if you’re not used to it,” Minnick replied.
St. George Police Lt. Rich Triplett was next to take the stand as the lead investigator in the case. He provided an overview of the investigation, which began less than 10 minutes after the shooting when detectives began arriving on scene.
Triplett said he arrived to find a black EMS bag on the sidewalk west of the bar and wrappers scattered across the area that were discarded as paramedics were attempting to save Tafua’s life.
He also said they found the injured man in front of a water faucet along the wall, which was a unique spot because it was the only faucet on that wall and was within feet of the Crown Victoria officers found the defendant sitting in minutes later.
The live round ejected when the suspect pumped the rifle was found a few feet from the sidewalk, Triplett said. It was in close proximity to the faucet where detectives found Tafua, along with the earring that was located on the sidewalk nearby.
Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger then asked Triplett to address the recordings of the hotline calls received by police that related to the case, which the defense said were not sent in a discovery request because they were destroyed.
Triplett explained that several years ago a hotline was set up for the public to call on cases that detectives were seeking information on. The phone number for the hotline is used “anytime that phone number is released to get the public’s help,” so the calls received could relate to any open cases that were publicized.
“During the Bronson case, we were getting calls on other cases at the same time, and were also getting calls from telemarketers and so on because it’s a public phone number.”
He also said detectives don’t typically return calls unless the person calling the hotline leaves a voicemail, which are all saved. In the case of the witness who testified that it took months for police to call him during cross-examination Monday, Triplett said he wasn’t called back because he did not leave a voicemail.
Triplett also said the witness in question was interviewed by police in the early morning hours of the incident, but any further follow up was unsuccessful when detectives were unable to reach him.
Wednesday evening, just after dark, the jurors were transported on a bus from the courthouse to the One and Only bar where detectives had marked a number of locations showing how the events unfolded. Police had marked the smoking area where the initial confrontation took place as well as the sidewalk where the fatal shot was fired. They also marked an area in the parking lot where the live round was expelled from the rifle, as well as other notable areas directly related to the incident.
A marker was also placed where Tafua was found on the sidewalk after being fatally shot.
The scene was taped off and the markers were placed by investigators prior to the escorted tour using the GPS coordinates recorded at the time of the incident, he said. It is a process that enables police to freeze the scene just as it was found on the night of the shooting. It also makes a record of the evidence and its location during processing.
The details pertaining to the locations that were marked were provided to jurors as they canvassed through the scene.
The state intends to rest its case at the start of trial Thursday.
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