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Expert challenges suspect’s scenario

An expert at recreating shooting scenes said Frank A. Zupan’s version of a drive-by shooting that took the life of his wife “was really impossible” during testimony Tuesday in Zupan’s murder trial.

Alexander Jason said his own recreation of the events the night of Nov. 15, 2005, show a shooting from a moving vehicle into the Zupans’ moving vehicle could not possibly have resulted in three bullets striking Shauneen A. Zupan in the area of her head.

In addition, “defensive wounds” to Mrs. Zupan’s right hand indicated she was trying to ward off the shots, two of which hit her in the left side of the head. Shauneen Zupan knew she was being shot in the head, Jason testified.



“The defendant’s version is inconsistent with the physical evidence,” Jason said. “It could not happen as he described.”

Defense attorney Quin Denvir called two witnesses in the late afternoon before resting his case, and Zupan, 61, was not one of them.




One was a former Lyons Restaurant waitress who served the Zupans their dinner the night of the shooting. Shawna Martin said she felt tension at their table, but saw no arguments or hostility.

The other witness was Det. Sgt. Joe Salivar of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, who conducted a videotaped interview shown earlier in the day. Salivar discussed three other videotapes he made of Sheriff’s Office investigators driving from Lyons – now home to Sweet Peas Garden Buffet – on Nevada City Highway, to the scene of the shooting.

The courtroom gallery was nearly full Tuesday for the trial’s concluding testimony. Zupan, who sat stoically at a table next to Denvir, was wearing a blue blazer and tie.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Nevada County Superior Court, with Judge Robert Tamietti presiding.

Improbable timing

During Jason’s testimony, a photograph of Shauneen Zupan’s head, taken during the autopsy, was projected onto a screen for about 10 minutes.

The grisly photograph showed two bullet holes to the left side. The first was through the top of the ear and the second was almost two inches directly above it.

Another photo was shown of wounds to the victim’s right hand, through which one bullet passed and then entered her brain, Jason said.

The analyst said two bullets were found in her head and a third in her right hand. Four .22-caliber bullet casings were found at the scene by detectives, but they did not find either the fourth bullet or the murder weapon.

In earlier testimony, Zupan’s son said his father owned at least two .22 handguns, and had told him how he would dispose of a murder weapon by dismantling the gun into pieces and throwing them into the Bear River.

Jason said several things in his investigation told him that Zupan’s version of the shooting “was really impossible.”

Two cars passing each other, each traveling at 20 mph, would allow a shooter just one-tenth of a second to get off a clear shot through the driver’s window of the other car.

To get off three to four shots, Jason said, the shooter would have had to open fire before the vehicles passed each other. A third shot probably would have missed altogether.

The bullets that hit Shauneen Zupan all went through her driver’s-side window. There were no indication that other bullets went through the windshield or struck any other part of the minivan, Jason testified. A machine gun would have left bullet holes all over the Zupans’ vehicle, he said.

In cross-examination, Denvir said he had tried to hire Jason himself for the case, but was beaten to the punch by Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson. Denvir then tried to discredit Jason by pointing out he could make up to $23,000 for his testimony, and that he might have come up with his results just to please Wolfson.

“I come to my own conclusions. I do what I do,” Jason said. “It may help or hinder your case, and that’s the way it is.”

Calm in taped interview

Earlier Tuesday morning, Wolfson played for jurors a videotape that Nevada County Sheriff’s investigators made of their interview with Frank Zupan nearly eight hours after the shooting.

A calm and collected Zupan said in the 3 a.m. tape that he and his 58-year-old wife were driving along McCourtney Road when the shooting occurred. With his wife behind the wheel, Zupan said he saw a vehicle approaching from the other way. When it got alongside, he said, “I heard what I thought was marbles or stones flying against the car.”

Zupan said the window on his wife’s side of the car caved in and she slumped to her left. Zupan said he grabbed the wheel and managed to get the car onto the shoulder of Indian Springs Road where it meets McCourtney. He said a row of boulders there stopped the vehicle.

Right after the shooting, Zupan said he called out, “Sweetheart, are you all right?” but she did not respond. After the couple’s Chrysler minivan came to a stop, “I saw all this blood,” Zupan said in the videotape.

Zupan said he then flagged down a passing motorist and called 911 on the man’s cell phone. That telephone call to a county emergency dispatcher was played in court: A frantic Zupan was heard saying, “My wife has head injuries and she’s bleeding bad.”

Zupan was emotional for a moment in the detectives’ videotape when he recounted how he was told at Sutter Roseville Medical Center that his wife had died. He said he had given her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the scene and had initially thought at the hospital that she might pull through.

At the conclusion of the interview, Zupan told detectives he understood he was going to be scrutinized. He told them they needed to know “I have crossed the line, I have been unfaithful, and she knew that.” But Zupan said he and his wife had gone to counseling and patched up their marriage.

Jail conversation

Jurors also heard a taped telephone conversation Zupan had with a friend while in custody at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility.

During the conversation, Zupan told his friend he knew investigators had found gloves with his DNA in them at the shooting scene. The rubber work gloves resembled a pair from a case of gloves later recovered by investigators from the Zupan’s home on nearby Retrac Way.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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