DES MOINES, Iowa - After a late start in the courtroom Friday morning, the state continues to call witnesses to the stand in the trial of Stephen Jonas.
Jonas, 50, is charged with first degree murder in the death of Zachary Paulsen, 21, last August. Paulsen's body was found by volunteers along the Clive Greenbelt Trail. Prosecutors say Jonas stabbed Paulsen 35 times before leaving him to die after a struggle between the two.
Thursday, the jury heard from a wide range of witnesses - many of whom were close friends of Paulsen's, or at least acquaintances from Tapz Pub, the bar in Clive where both Jonas and Paulsen were seen the night of the incident in question. Several witnesses recalled a conversation they claimed to have had with Paulsen last August about an "inappropriate hug" and unwanted sexual advance he received from Jonas about a week prior to the incident. These witnesses testified Paulsen had become upset and uncomfortable from the encounter, and kicked Jonas off his business property where they were at the time. The following weekend, on August 23, prosecutors argue Jonas showed up to Paulsen's property uninvited, causing a struggle that ultimately led to Paulsen's death.
Friday the jury heard from Tracy Taylor, the head bartender at Tapz Pub and a close friend of Paulsen's. Taylor gave the jury the most detailed version of this story regarding an unwanted advance.
"He said that the Friday prior, when him and Keith and Steve were at the shop, that Keith left, and Steve stayed and they hung out," Taylor said. "And they were kind of wrapping things up, and Steve said, 'Give me a hug.' And he said, 'Okay,' and did. And then he said Steve reached for his bottom. Zach wasn't cool with it, and then he hugged him again. He pushed him off of him, and he said, 'You need to leave now, and I'm going to watch you leave.' Zach always had a smirk on his face, but I could tell he was uncomfortable with the situation."
Taylor said she heard this story from Paulsen a week later, on the night of Paulsen's death. Taylor told the jury Paulsen had been ignoring Jonas' texts since the incident. But the defense was able to get Taylor to admit that Paulsen had also expressed a willingness to fight Jonas if another attempt was made in the future.
"He kind of looked at me, and said, 'If he ever hits on me again, I'm going to beat his ass'," she said.
The defense is using its cross-examination as an opportunity to paint a different picture of Paulsen to the jury. The defense suggests perhaps Paulsen was a frequent Tapz Pub patron, often drinking to the point of intoxication, and not unfamiliar with altercations. Several witnesses were asked to recount Paulsen's drinking habits, and alleged altercations at Tapz Pub. But Taylor told jurors Friday morning that Paulsen wasn't the type to go over his limits; she recounted Paulsen's habit of always drinking a pitcher of water after bar close, and helping bartenders clean Tapz Pub before leaving.
The defense later motioned for a mistrial, claiming the prosecution's witnesses shouldn't be allowed to testify about what Paulsen told them about Jonas last year. The judge overruled the motion for a number of reasons, but said the defense should have objected to the witnesses' testimony at the proper time.