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Publish Date: 3/2/2005

Defense warns jurors witness changed story
Lawyer claims two versions are being given


BOULDER — Jurors heard Tuesday two different versions of what happened before a Longmont man shot an acquaintance’s stepfather last summer.

Both versions, though, came from the same person: Joseph Rios, who testified Tuesday in the trial of Kevin Sutton, 26.

Sutton is charged with second-degree attempted murder, second-degree assault and felony menacing. He is accused of shooting Cristobal Lopez in the head during a party at Sutton’s house June 26. The bullet passed beneath the skin of Lopez’s right temple, but did not penetrate his skull.

Sutton, who won $3.1 million from the Colorado Lottery in 1997, is claiming self-defense. His attorney, Nancy Holton, is trying to show Sutton was afraid of Rios, who was acquitted of a 1998 murder.

Rios and Sutton knew each other from high school, and Holton said Sutton was aware of Rios’ history because Rios brags about “getting away with murder.”

On the witness stand, a very soft-spoken Rios denied bragging about his role in the September 1998 stabbing death of 18-year-old Anthony Ruiz.

“I don’t talk about that,” Rios said during his direct testimony. Like Sutton, Rios claimed self-defense at his trial.

“He was playing with the gun all night,” Rios said of Sutton. But Rios did not know Sutton was aiming the gun at his head until he heard his stepfather yell at him. Rios turned and saw the gun “right next to me,” he said.

Sutton told Lopez to be quiet, and Lopez responded by telling Sutton to put the gun away, Rios testified.

“He just pointed at and shot him,” Rios testified. “Blood started coming out of Cris’ head like a waterfall.”

Holton used a transcript of Rios’ interview with Longmont police Detective Michael Boespflug to point out the discrepancies between that story and the one he told Boespflug shortly after the shooting.

Rios avoided Holton’s questions about the differences by responding that he did not remember talking to police that night. His demeanor and tone of voice remained calm and soft throughout his testimony.

When Boespflug testified Tuesday, prosecutor Bruce Langer focused on what Sutton himself said during an interview the day after the shooting.

Sutton, who started drinking about noon the day of the shooting, said he did not mind that a mutual friend invited Rios and Lopez to Sutton’s house to drink beer Boespflug testified.

“I didn’t say nothing. I figured, an old friend, no big deal,” Boespflug quoted Sutton as saying. Boespflug often referred to or read from a transcript of the interview during his testimony.

When the group arrived at Sutton’s house, though, things did not go smoothly and Rios acted “shady,” Sutton told Boespflug.

“It just looked like he wanted to have a problem,” Sutton told Boespflug. Yet, Sutton was not paying enough attention to know exactly what Rios was discussing with another guest, he said.

Rios and Lopez left the party once and returned, but Sutton told Boespflug he did not invite them back inside, as the other two men testified. Almost immediately, problems started again, Sutton said. He told them to leave, but Rios and Lopez instead approached Sutton until he was backed up against a table, Sutton said.

Sutton then pulled out his gun and shot Lopez.

Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226, or by e-mail at vcamron@times-call.com.

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