DES MOINES, Iowa – The murder trial of a Polk County man continues Monday with the jury seeing for the first time a recorded interview between law enforcement and the defendant.
Stephen Jonas, 50, is charged with first degree murder for the death of Zachary Paulsen, 21, last August. Prosecutors tell the jury Jonas stabbed Paulsen 35 times before leaving him to die along the Greenbelt Trail in Clive. Jonas’ attorneys argue Jonas was merely defending his own life in a violent struggle with Paulsen on the night in question.
Monday, prosecutors showed the jury a recorded interview between Department of Criminal Investigation agents and Jonas the night after Paulsen’s body was discovered by trail volunteers. In the recording, officials ask Jonas about his friendship with Paulsen, and about Paulsen’s shop where they hung out after bar close at Tapz Pub, where they were both regulars.
Jonas initially told officials in the interview that he had only been to Paulsen’s business after bar close a week prior to the night in question. He also denied any phone calls or text messages between the two.
“I’ve never talked to him on the phone,” he told officials. “I think one time Zach said, ‘Hey, give me your number in case you get lost.'”
When officials ask Jonas in the video if he’s never called or texted Paulsen, Jonas says he’s doesn’t think so.
“I’d have to look, but I’m not sure. I don’t think so,” he said.
Last week, prosecutors showed the jury text messages sent and received on Paulsen’s cell phone, which was recovered at the scene of the crime. Several of those messages came from Jonas. Witnesses last week told the jury Paulsen had told them about an uncomfortable encounter he had with Jonas a week prior to the night of his death. The encounter, which took place at Paulsen’s business after bar close, involved an alleged unwanted sexual advance on Paulsen from Jonas.
In messages sent by Jonas to Paulsen, Jonas told Paulsen to, “Get over it.”
One witness, Tracy Taylor, a bartender at Tapz Pub and a close friend of Paulsen’s, said Paulsen had told her on the night of his death that he was ignoring Jonas’ attempts to contact him.
In the video, Jonas also lied about a bruise on his chin. Prosecutors say the bruise came from a hammer used by Paulsen on Jonas during their struggle. When first asked how he received the injury by officials in the video, Jonas said he fell.
Jonas also denied being at Paulsen’s business the night prior. In the video, he tells officials he had only been there once a week before.
“There’s video surveillance (on the property),” one official said in the video. “So you haven’t been there in the last three days? So no footage will show you or your truck?”
Jonas responded with, “No.”
After the initial interview with officials, Jonas returned to confess to the stabbing of Paulsen. However, he’s pleading not guilty on the grounds of self-defense.