Jury returns guilty verdict on bar murder before packed courtroom with 7 bailiffs standing guard

ST. GEORGE — Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger told the jury Bronson Joseph Flynn was guilty of murder when he shot and killed 34-year-old Spencer Maluafiti Tafua at the One and Only bar in 2018 — and the jury agreed.

Defendant, Bronson Joseph Flynn, hangs his head after guilty verdict in bar shooting trial at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Mar. 6, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Before a packed St. George District courtroom just after 8 p.m., the jury found Flynn guilty of all seven charges filed by the state, including first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, using a dangerous weapon during a fight, carrying a dangerous weapon while under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence.

The defendant hung his head following the verdict. He is being held without bail pending sentencing.

The jury had a difficult decision to make, defense attorney Trevor Terry said during his closing arguments, with four potential charges relating to the killing of Tafua, in addition to the six other charges the defendant was facing, as they began deliberations shortly before 11 a.m. Friday.

With the question of whether Flynn killed Tafua off the table – as the defendant admitted to the shooting – the jury was then tasked with deciding if Flynn was guilty of first-degree murder, manslaughter, self-defense or if they found that the defendant was acting under an imperfect defense, which is a second-degree felony.

Should the jury have found the shooting was in self-defense, he would have been found not guilty. To find the defendant guilty under the terms of an imperfect defense, the jury would have had to find that Flynn used deadly force due to having an honest but unreasonable belief that he was in eminent danger and that his actions were necessary to counter an attack, thus mitigating the punishment imposed for the crime.

Prosecutor Mark Barlow plays 911 recording during closing arguments in bar shooting trial at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Mar. 6, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Prior to the jury’s return to the courtroom, District Judge G. Michael Westfall told those in the gallery there were to be no outbursts when the verdict was read.

Despite the heightened level of emotion accompanying the trial, he said, “this is still a court of law.”

The gallery was nearly packed on each side with family members and friends of both Tafua and Flynn. As such, the courtroom was monitored by at least seven bailiffs, three of which were lined up near the table where the defendant and his attorney were sitting.

Once the verdict was read, the family of the defendant exited the courtroom first and cleared the courthouse steps, followed by Tafua’s family, with several bailiffs stationed on the steps in front of the courthouse as both families, attorneys and court staff went their separate ways.

The fight to the verdict  

Both sides waged battle during the five-day jury trial following a myriad of continuances and pre-trial motions that were filed just weeks before jury selection began Feb. 29.

The same held for closing arguments. The state opened with prosecutor Mark Barlow, who started by saying the defense’s position is that the only element of the shooting that was being contested was the “why” it took place.

The defendant had claimed he was pursued by the victim and others after an altercation in the smoking area.

Defense attorney Trevor Terry gives impassioned closing argument during bar shooting trial at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Mar. 6, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“The defendant was not being chased. No one was charging him. Even his friend said, ‘put that thing away’,” Barlow said.

There was no reasonable logic behind the shooting, he said. It happened because “Bronson doesn’t fold for anyone.”

Barlow also said the incident unfolded differently than the series of events the defense has outlined, in that Flynn got the gun out of the car, and when he saw Tafua in the parking lot the defendant cut through the cars and continued toward the bar, “weapon raised, and said ‘you think you’re tough? Come fight me now’, Barlow said as he recounted the defendant’s comments shortly before the fatal shot was fired.

He also said there were other options available to the defendant that night, but he took none of them. He closed by saying that no reasonable person would believe the defendant’s conduct was justified that night when he shot and killed Tafua.

Defense attorney Trevor Terry began closing arguments by saying, “the state says my client “doesn’t fold for anyone.'”

“I don’t know what that means. I don’t even think my client knows what that means – because my client never said it,” Terry said.

Terry said that Flynn did separate himself after the initial altercation in the smoking area, and “time and time again,” he said, his client did communicate his desire to withdraw from the engagement.

Terry said Flynn racked the rifle that made a distinct sound when the group was still 20-30 feet away, in an effort to deter them from advancing. When he had previously asked Flynn on the stand if that made any difference, the defendant said, “no.”

Attorneys approach the bench before jury goes into deliberations in during bar shooting trial at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Mar. 6, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The attorney also said that despite the state’s position that the first reference to a gun related to Flynn’s gun, it was actually one of the men in the group who brought the issue up when the man told another bar patron, “get your strap,” Terry said.

He also said his client could not have gone to security that night because of the comments made when Flynn left the smoking area and the association that appeared to exist, at least by Flynn’s perception, between the group and security personnel.

The County Attorney’s Office has insinuated “over and over and over again” what my client should have done that night. They have an entire manual on that,” the defense attorney said.

The parking lot from the bar door to where the shooting happened was 184 feet, according to the state, Terry said. “At 30 feet from Flynn, the group kept coming. At 10 feet they kept coming — did my client shoot? No, he did not.”

In fact, “(Flynn) didn’t fire the weapon until the victim was within 1-2 from him,” Terry said, as the medical examiner testified to earlier in the trial.

Terry also said that the state suggested that Flynn could have left, and if he would have the incident would have never happened.

“Bronson left the smoking area. He left the bar. He went to his car,” he said. “Then, after he was pursued seven times, that is where he stood his ground.”

“Even then, he yelled ‘stay back or i’ll shoot’ and still they kept coming,” he said, adding that it wasn’t until Tafua was within 1-2 feet from the barrel that he shot – “could my client have given him any more chances at that point?” Terry said.

Terry then asked the jury if those are the actions of someone that wanted to kill Tafua, adding that the real question was why the group was so focused on his client.

Lead prosecutor Jerry Jaeger addresses jury during bar shooting trial at 5th District Court, St. George, Utah, Mar. 6, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The parking lot was 148 feet long, and the entire incident took roughly 128 seconds — leaving his client very little time to respond to the eminent danger he was in that night, Terry said.

Lead prosecutor Jerry Jaeger gave the second closing argument, or rebuttal, by saying the testimony presented during the trial was clear and concise, and did not portray the defendant as a victim, but instead revealed that Flynn was the aggressor during the incident.

“What matters today is the truth. What really happened on Dec. 29, 2018,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger also said the defendant was not injured during the initial altercation that night. He also said that after that altercation in the smoking area, it was over for everyone involved – except for Flynn who returned to the bar with a loaded gun. The defendant killed Tafua despite all of the other options he had available to him.

The prosecutor said the defendant even refused to put away the gun, as his friend had suggested, and he also refused to leave the bar that night — so it was Tafua who “had the right to defend himself -because this man was coming at him with a loaded firearm.”

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

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