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Former Northern Colorado Punter Charged With Attempted Murder

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Associated Press
Friday, October 20, 2006

DENVER, Oct. 19 -- Prosecutors filed a charge of attempted first-degree murder Thursday against a former University of Northern Colorado backup punter accused of stabbing the starter in a case that drew comparisons to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan rivalry.

Mitchell Cozad, 21, is accused of stabbing Rafael Mendoza in his kicking leg Sept. 11 outside Mendoza's apartment.

Cozad, of Wheatland, Wyo., also faces one count of second-degree assault. Prosecutors said he could face up to 48 years in prison if convicted.

Weld County district attorney's spokeswoman Jennifer Finch said a warrant was issued for Cozad's arrest. It was not immediately clear whether he was in custody.

His attorney, Joseph A. Gavaldon, did not immediately return a call.

Finch said that after their investigation, prosecutors felt the attempted murder and assault counts "were the appropriate charges." She did not elaborate.

Mendoza was treated for a three- to five-inch-deep puncture wound in his right thigh and released. He has returned to the team.

Cozad was suspended from the team and the university.

Police Lt. Gary Kessler has said the motive appeared to be competition for the starting job. The attack prompted comparisons to an attack by Olympic skater Harding's hit man on Kerrigan.

Northern Colorado spokesman Eric Scott said he could not comment. Mendoza did not immediately return a message.

Weld County District Attorney Kenneth R. Buck last month delayed filing charges in the case, saying he needed more information.

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