ST. GEORGE — As the trial continues for Bronson Joseph Flynn, who stands accused of shooting a man to death outside the One and Only bar in St. George, testimony by the state assistant medical examiner shed light on why the bullet that traveled through the victim’s body was so swift and deadly.
The second day of trial opened with Utah Assistant Medical Examiner Michael Belenky’s testimony as he went over the autopsy findings for jurors in 5th District Court where Flynn, 26, is on trial for first-degree murder.
When asked how far the gun was from the victim at the time of the shooting, Belenky, who testified for the state, said, “From my experience, given the amount of stippling, it was within 1-2 feet from the skin.”
The autopsy was performed Dec. 31, 2018, two days after the shooting that killed 34-year-old Spencer Maluafiti Tafua at the One and Only bar shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2018, when police responded to the bar on reports of gunfire and an individual brandishing a gun.
Belenky said Tafua died from a gunshot wound to the chest, which was fired from an intermediate range, which is the range of distance from the muzzle or barrel to the skin surface, he said, gauging from the amount of stippling found on the body.
Stippling is the unburned powder grains exiting from the gun that causes pinpoint abrasions or burns on the skin surrounding the entry wound.
Belenky said if the distance between the barrel and the skin’s surface exceeds three feet, there is no stippling, but at an intermediate range, it is close enough for the powder grains from the muzzle to strike the skin and produce the stippling, which is what he found during the autopsy.
“Mr. Tafua had multiple burns on his chest,” Belenky said.
Belenky said the bullet entered the chest and went through one of the victim’s ribs, continued through the diaphragm, where it perforated both the large and small bowel, before lacerating the aorta and another vessel. The bullet then crossed over to the right side of the body where it caused a lumbar fracture before it became lodged in the muscle tissue, which is where it was recovered during the autopsy.
“So it went into the left side of the chest and then lodged in the muscles on the right,” he said, adding the trajectory of the bullet was left to right and came within two inches of exiting the body through the skin.
Blood samples sent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for analysis later showed it contained “an intoxicating amount of ethanol alcohol,” Belenky said.
Another witness who testified for the state said he was at the bar that night, and once the initial altercation was over, everything calmed down. He then noticed that Tafua had left the smoking area and was headed out to the parking lot, so, he attempted to stop him, he said. He then continued following him, saying they just wanted to talk to the defendant.
He said he saw the defendant “holding up the rifle and still yapping his mouth.” He then heard Flynn say, “Stop, or I’ll shoot,” adding that Tafua took a couple of steps closer and put up his hands, saying, “I just want to talk.” A second later he was shot, the witness said.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Trevor Terry asked him why he told police he was 20-30 feet from Tafua and didn’t see them engaging in the parking lot. Terry also asked him why in the recorded police interview he said they were leading a group to go and “confront Bronson,” Terry said.
After nearly 30 minutes of testimony back and forth, the witness said there was a group approaching the defendant before the shot was fired, and then he left the stand.
A bartender also testified for the state and said she heard a commotion out in the parking lot that night. When asked how many people were out there, she said it was a large group and that “half of the bar” was out there.
She then called 911 to report that people were fighting in the parking lot, and with the security team already near the crowd, she locked the door to the bar.
“But as soon as the operator said, ‘hello this is 911,’ that was when you heard the gun,” Prosecutor Mark Barlow asked.
“Yes,” the witness said.
St. George Police Officer Bryan Groves took the stand and testified the call that came out at 1:23 a.m. had a “tone” to alert officers it was a high priority call. The officer was driving west on St. George Boulevard returning from booking a DUI arrest when the call came out, he said, so he looked over “and saw the One and Only bar.”
Turning down 800 East, Groves heard people yelling at him so he asked, “Where’s he at, where’s he at.” People pointed to the white vehicle that was in the parking lot with the motor running, he said. He added that the brake and front lights were illuminated as if the suspect was putting his foot on the brake with the car in reverse.
“As you can imagine, It was a chaotic scene with a lot of people,” Groves said.
He pulled up behind the car and ordered the suspect not to move until backup arrived and took Flynn into custody.
Meanwhile, one the bouncers approached the officer saying, “Hey, my man’s down over here,” Groves recounted. An ambulance was dispatched to the scene at that point. He also said he found Tafua on the sidewalk about 25-30 feet from the suspect’s car.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.