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The Trial

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"I watched them tamper with the taped video recordings of the victim and witnesses taken after the incident, I watched them change the statements in their reports and lie about what actually happened at Fountain Hills Bowl that night.

"I have watched them take without warrant or due process his automobile that was at a repair shop.

"I know they have had him and his family under surveillance starting years ago, have illegally wire-tapped his home phone over the years, taken his trash from his home and have illegally invaded his privacy over and over again with reckless disregard of his rights. Unfortunately, I have taken part in some of these actions."

The letter writer claimed he could not identify himself because "I have a few more years until I am to retire from the Sheriff's Office. I have too many years invested in my job to let it all be destroyed at this point."

It looked too good to be true and, unsigned, was worthless anyway. The weird thing, though: In time, substantial parts of the letter proved to be true.

For example, in a deposition of one of the investigators, Ferragut casually asked about audio tapes of the interviews with Nordman and LaChance.

The investigator, apparently uninformed about the company line on the tape issue, responded that he had in fact made numerous audio tapes and made copies of the tapes for MCSO and the County Attorney's Office.

"This was on a Friday," Ferragut says. "When Monday morning came, all of a sudden they had a new deal on the table. All they wanted was the discharge of a weapon. Jim would be probation-eligible."

Cozzolino, worn out and broke, decided to take his family's advice to plead guilty. They figured that with probation only, he would be able to keep his job and keep the family from losing its house. And, after all, whatever the circumstances, he did discharge a firearm.

"The gun did go off -- period," Cozzolino told me. "Who knows what happens with a jury."

Bad idea. After he entered the guilty plea, Arpaio sent a letter to the sentencing judge saying he feared for his life, claiming Cozzolino was guilty of those old death threats against him. Arpaio suggested the maximum prison sentence possible.

"On May 11, 1998, James Vincent Cozzolino interrupted official Maricopa County Sheriff's Office radio communications to broadcast his unequivocal intent to murder me."

Pure fantasy.

Arpaio ended the letter with grand megalomaniacal bluster:

"The threat of assassination, like assassination itself, should not be taken lightly. In addition to the fact that murder is ruthlessly and calculatedly committed, there is yet a further harm which strikes at the very heart of a democratic form of government. The assassin takes it upon himself to remove from the hands of the electorate the decision regarding who should serve in government, destabilizing government in the process. Therefore, I urge the Court to impose the maximum sentence upon James Vincent Cozzolino, not only to protect me and my family from mortal harm, but also, as an elected official, to protect the integrity of government itself."

Somebody's been reading too much Cicero.

Realizing he was being set up for a hanging, Cozzolino asked to rescind his plea, a request the judge denied.

So, on December 12, Cozzolino walked into by far the weirdest sentencing hearing I've ever seen.

There was the victim explaining why she wasn't a victim and why the guy being sentenced was the actual victim and, in her mind, the actual hero.

There was the victim condemning investigators for not arresting the guy who actually assaulted her.

There was the guy who actually assaulted her sitting in the courtroom amid seven top MCSO officials and one journalist fully admitting he was the one who did the assaulting.

As he took a beating from witnesses for being a violent drunk, Bob LaChance leaned over to me and whispered:

"Holy crap. I'm starting to feel like these assholes are going to arrest me right here on the spot."

"Oh, settle down," I told him. "They don't want you. They want Cozzolino."

And they got their man. The judge gave him four months. It could have been much worse. Arpaio wanted him to get several years.

But interestingly, the four-month sentence, as the Cozzolino family stated to the judge, should be just enough to get him fired from his job and completely drain the family's depleted bank account. Most likely, Cozzolino's wife says, she and her four kids will have to move back with her family in Canada.

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Robert Nelson