Wounded punter watches as accused assailant appears in court

Monday, November 6th 2006, 1:00 pm
By: News On 6

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) _ Northern Colorado punter Rafael Mendoza left a courtroom visibly shaken Monday after his former backup appeared before a judge on charges of trying to kill Mendoza by stabbing him in his kicking leg.

Mitch Cozad is charged with attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault in the Sept. 11 attack on Mendoza. Police say they believe Cozad attacked Mendoza to capture his starting job.

The judge on Monday scheduled two more hearings but declined to rule on motions by Cozad's attorney to close a Jan. 19 preliminary hearing, limit pretrial publicity and keep the arrest warrant affidavit sealed.

Cozad, dressed in a black suit, white shirt and white tie, answered ``yes'' or ``no'' to the judge's questions but said nothing else. He and his attorney, Joseph Gavaldon, declined to comment as they left Weld County District Court.

The 21-year-old Cozad faces up to 48 years in prison if convicted. He is free on $500,000 bail.

Mendoza also declined to comment as he walked to his truck. Last week he said that Monday's hearing would be difficult because it would be the first time he had seen Cozad since the attack.

``It will bring back a lot of flashbacks and memories from the night it happened,'' he told The Associated Press last week. ``It will be hard to look at him. It's even hard just looking at pictures of him.''

Police said Mendoza was ambushed in a dimly lit parking lot at his apartment complex and suffered a 3- to 5-inch deep knife wound in his kicking leg. Mendoza said it's hard for him to go home at night unless he's with friends or talking on his cell phone, and that he's always looking over his shoulder.

The 21-year-old punter told The AP that he had taken Cozad out for steak dinners after Cozad transferred from the University of Wyoming and walked on the team in August, and that he asked Cozad to be his roommate and was waiting for an answer when he was attacked.

Though Mendoza has returned to the team and had a 75-yard punt two weeks ago, he walks with a limp, finds sitting painful and has changed his punting style because he cannot extend his leg as far as he did before the attack. He'll find out after the season if he needs an operation on his leg, which might prevent him from playing his senior season next year.

District Judge Marcelo Kopcow issued a protection order requiring Cozad to stay away from Mendoza and two potential witnesses.