Codefendant of Finley Fultz testifies in Nevada County murder trial
Nathan Philbrook said he saw the muzzle flash and heard someone screaming.
Philbrook, serving a 23-year prison sentence in connection with the 2014 shooting death of Isaac Zafft, testified Tuesday in Finley Fultz’s murder trial. Talking about the moments before the shooting, Philbrook said he stood inside a greenhouse used as a marijuana grow. Philbrook saw a man stand up inside the greenhouse off Good Enough Court in Penn Valley, approach him and then flee when he saw Philbrook’s gun.
Then came the gunfire.
“I hear screaming,” said Philbrook, 34. “Bloody murder. There were a few more shots after that, after the screaming. He was screaming and then it stopped, after the other shots. Two or three, maybe even four. They were fast.”
Hours later, after noon on July 7, 2014, Philbrook’s wife began asking what happened. Philbrook then heard the 28-year-old Fultz — facing a murder charge in Nevada County Superior Court — tell her that he shot a man authorities identify as Zafft, 27.
“Well, he fired a warning shot and then the guy started screaming and that he fired a few more times to shut him up,” Philbrook said.
Testifying Tuesday in Fultz’s trial, Philbrook said he, Fultz and Daniel Devencenzi, 33, gathered at Philbrook’s Reno home before taking two vehicles to Penn Valley. Philbrook and Fultz went in Fultz’s Chevrolet Tahoe. Devencenzi followed in a full-size, blue Chevrolet.
“We’d come down here and get it from a greenhouse,” Philbrook said of the marijuana. “Go in there and take it out of there.”
Fultz had an AR-15 rifle. Philbrook had a pistol. Devencenzi, who had no weapons, planned to swerve his vehicle if a police officer approached him, providing a distraction, Philbrook said.
Under questioning by defense attorney Greg Klein, who represents Fultz, Philbrook said he’d stolen some 75 pounds of marijuana from Good Enough Court two weeks before the fatal shooting. However, Philbrook emphasized that he gained most of his income from selling pot he grew.
According to Philbrook, it took under two hours to reach the Penn Valley home. The three men then walked alongside a gravel road, under the trees, approaching the greenhouse from behind.
Philbrook said he knew there was no marijuana in the greenhouse when he saw a large pile of dirt outside. He then entered the greenhouse after a brief discussion with Fultz, who walked along the outside edge of the structure.
Moments later Philbrook saw movement.
“He was like coming at me,” Philbrook said of the other person. “I don’t know if he was trying to run me off. And then he turned around and took off. He probably seen me. I had a laser on my gun.”
Moments later Philbrook heard gunfire. He then returned to the vehicles and found Fultz and Devencenzi waiting for him. All three then left for Reno, Philbrook said.
The men returned to Philbrook’s home. Devencenzi left and Fultz said he was worrying about him, he added.
“He said, ‘We might have to get rid of him,’” Philbrook said. “I said, ‘I’m not really worried about it.’”
Fultz left and returned around noon. Philbrook told him to dispose of the rifle, which Fultz kept at Philbrook’s house. Fultz, given a sledgehammer and grinder, then left on a quad with a backpack. Two hours later Fultz came back. Philbrook never saw the rifle again, he said.
Questioned by Fultz’s defense attorney, Philbrook said he used methamphetamine intravenously around the time of the shooting. Philbrook also said he spoke to Zafft moments before the shooting — the first time he testified about the exchange.
“I said something to him, I’m pretty sure,” Philbrook said.
Additionally, Philbrook’s written statement claims that he never again saw Fultz after the shooting. However, on Tuesday Philbrook testified that Fultz came to his home about a month later. Arguing with Fultz, Philbrook threatened him with a gun and told him to leave.
Philbrook and Devencenzi pleaded guilty in April to manslaughter in connection with Zafft’s death. Prosecutors dropped murder charges against them.
Philbrook was sentenced to 23 years in prison on charges of manslaughter and attempted second-degree robbery. Devencenzi is expected to receive an 11-year prison sentence.
Fultz has pleaded not guilty to his accusations.
The trial is scheduled to continue Thursday.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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