What’s making news in St. Paul, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to richard.meryhew@startribune.com.

Maplewood police investigate armed robbery

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet under Local business, Public safety Updated: October 24, 2014 - 5:11 PM

Police are investigating the armed robberies of Walgreens locations in White Bear Lake and Maplewood that happened back-to-back Friday.

At about 3:30 a.m., Maplewood police were called to the Walgreens in the 2900 block of White Bear Avenue on the report of an armed robbery. Employees said a man pointed a handgun at them, made repeated threats to shoot them and demanded money from the registers. The man, who was dressed in dark clothing with a scarf that covered most of his face, left the store with an undisclosed amount of money. No one was injured during the incident. Police weren't able to find the suspect.

A short time later, a Walgreens in White Bear Lake was robbed by a suspect with a similar description. Investigators from the Maplewood and White Bear Lake police are working to determine if the robberies are connected with others in the metro area.

Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call 651-767-0640 or 9-1-1. Anonymous text message tips can be sent by texting the word Maplewood and the tip information to TIP411 (847411).

First-degree murder indictment returned in New Brighton killing

Posted by: Chao Xiong Updated: October 22, 2014 - 3:24 PM

A grand jury indicted Neal C. Zumberge of first-degree murder in the May killing of his neighbor over a deer feeding feud.

The grand jury also indicted him on first-degree attempted murder for wounding his neighbor's girlfriend. Authorities believe Zumberge fired a semiautomatic shotgun at Todd G. Stevens and Jennifer Damerow-Cleven on May 5, killing Stevens.

Zumberge also remains charged with the initial counts filed against him: second-degree murder and attempted  second-degree murder. He is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 2, 2015.

Authoritied allege that Zumberge shot at his neighbors because of a years long feud about Stevens feeding deer in his yard. The day of the shooting, Damerow-Cleven had called the police on Zumberge's son, Jacob, who was wanted for making threats against her and Stevens.

St. Paul city vehicle stolen from work site, sandwich also taken

Posted by: Chao Xiong under Public safety Updated: October 22, 2014 - 11:20 AM

Bana Nong is charged with stealing a city vehicle on Oct. 20.

A St. Paul city vehicle was stolen from a work site Monday, and when it was recovered, the city employee's sandwich was also missing.

Bana Nong, 31, whose residence is unknown, allegedly took the city-owned 2014 Ford Focus from Seventh and Wabasha streets, according to one count of motor vehicle theft filed against him Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court.

According to the complaint: A city public works employee parked the car in the area so he could inspect a construction site. He left the car running and its orange strobe light activated. The employee was walking in front of the car when he heard a car door close.

"...he turned to see the Focus driving the wrong way down Wabasha Street," the complaint said.

The employee activated the car's global positioning system to help police trace its location.

Police stopped the Ford Focus on Selby Avenue near Mackubin Street and arrested Nong.

"[The city employee] recovered the car and indicated that a sandwich was missing from his lunch box and that the orange strobe light had been disabled and possibly broken," the complaint said.

Nong allegedly told police that he took the car, then said he didn't want to speak any more, ending the interview.

Nong was cited for theft in a September incident for allegedly stealing a $28.99 bottle of liquor from 1st Grand Avenue Liquors in St. Paul.

Defense seeking character evidence in New Brighton deer-feeding murder case

Posted by: Chao Xiong Updated: October 17, 2014 - 10:37 AM

The attorney representing accused murderer Neal C. Zumberge filed notice Wednesday that he will seek to admit character evidence at trial regarding his client and the shooting victim.

Zumberge, 57, is charged with second-degree murder with intent and attempted second-degree murder for allegedly shooting his neighbors Todd G. Stevens and Jennifer Damerow-Cleven on May 5. Stevens was killed, and Damerow-Cleven suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Authorities believe the shooting stemmed from a years-long dispute between the families about Stevens' habit of feeding deer in his yard. Zumberge and his family, who lived across the street, apparently believed that he and the family dog contracted Lyme disease from a deer tick.

In his motion in limine, defense attorney William Orth wrote that he would ask the court during an Oct. 21 pre-trial hearing "for an order allowing the defense to introduce pertinent character evidence of the victim and the defendant. This character evidence will be submitted by testimony as to reputation and/or testimony in the form of an opinion. The character evidence will also be submitted upon specific instances of conduct."

Minnesota court rules allow for the inclusion of character evidence with restrictions and qualifications, but convincing a judge to allow it at trial can be a challenge.

That's because someone's character doesn't impact whether they receive protection under the law, said Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Hamline University School of Law.

"Character is irrelevant," Daly said. "We're all persons under the law and have a right to be protected as citizens under the law. Doesn't matter if we're good or bad.

"Most judges don't want to [allow it], because you open up a can of worms when you let character come into play. It confuses the jury."

Character evidence at trial isn't common, but it's not necessarily rare, either, Daly said.

Attempting to introduce character evidence about the victim could be a strategic move to show that, based on past behavior, the victim was the aggressor.

"In all likelihood, they're going to be talking about the propensity of the victim being a violent person," Daly said. "That's my guess -- that he acted in an aggressive manner in the past."

Court records show that Zumberge was convicted of second-degree assault in 1987.

Court records show that Stevens, 46, has been convicted of disorderly conduct, obstructing the legal process and drunken driving.

According to murder charges filed against Zumberge, he shot Stevens and Damerow-Cleven, 48, on May 5 because Damerow-Cleven had his son, Jacob H. Zumberge, arrested earlier that day. Jacob Zumberge was wanted by police for threatening to kill Stevens and Damerow-Cleven on a previous occasion. When the younger Zumberge and Damerow-Cleven ran into each other at a restaurant on May 5, Damerow-Cleven called police.

That evening, Damerow-Cleven was confronted in her front yard by Neal Zumberge's wife, Paula A. Zumberge, who stood on the edge of her property across the street. Authorities allege that Neal Zumberge, hidden between the side of his home and some bushes, fired on his neighbors with a semiautomatic shotgun.

Paula Zumberge, 50, was tried and acquitted in August of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, aiding and abetting attempted second-degree murder and two counts of aiding and abetting second-degree assault.

When she was tried before a judge, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Anna Christie filed a motion to exclude character evidence about Damerow-Cleven other than "her character for truthfulness." Christie also filed notice that should the defense present character evidence about Neal Zumberge, who had planned to testify at his wife's trial, the prosecution would ask him about the 1987 assault conviction and a 2009 assault report from New Brighton police.

The trade-off with introducing character evidence is that it gives the prosecution an opening to scrutinize a defendant's past behavior.

"As soon as [the defense] brings in character, it's no-hold bars," Daly said. "[The prosecution] can bring in all kinds of stuff they never would be allowed to. It's risky business for the accused to bring in his character."

Orth didn't say in his motion what character evidence he wants to introduce, but said that he would provide the court with specific information at a later date.

Neal Zumberge is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 10.

Jacob Zumberge, 24, pleaded guilty in Anoka County District Court on Oct. 13 to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, and will not receive additional jail time.

St. Paul is for the birds

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: October 16, 2014 - 12:45 PM

In the debate over whether to install special glass for the billion-dollar Minnesota Vikings’ stadium in downtown Minneapolis to protect migratory birds, St. Paul wants to make one thing clear: it’s for the birds.

Three City Council members next week will introduce a resolution calling on the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority “to build a bird-proof stadium” with glass walls that are visible to birds rather than completely transparent. To do otherwise, the resolution says, could result in the deaths of thousands of birds.

Why should this matter to St. Paul? For one thing, the city shares with Minneapolis the Mississippi River, a corridor used every spring and fall by 40 percent of the migratory birds in North America. The more birds colliding with the stadium in Minneapolis, the fewer will find their way through the capital city.

And the city wants to stand in solidarity with the Minneapolis City Council, which passed a similar resolution nearly three months ago.

Both St. Paul and Minneapolis signed a federal urban conservation treaty for migratory birds in 2011. Minneapolis’ stadium implementation committee, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Audubon Society all think bird-safe glass is the way to go.

But the St. Paul resolution is unlikely to change the minds of the Vikings or the stadium commission. They’ve already pointed out that specially fritted glass, containing tiny ceramic beads to make it less reflective, would add $1.1 million to the stadium budget.

And they say it could reduce the glass’ transparency for human eyes. If you’re going to design a downtown pyramid wrapped in 200,000 square feet of glass, you ought to be able to see in or out as well as possible, so the argument goes.


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