As trial nears end, prosecutors show surveillance video of the alleged shooter and his wife in the hours and minutes before shooting.
Hours before Neal Zumberge allegedly shot and killed his neighbor on May 5 in a long-running dispute over feeding deer, he skulked around the south side of his house in the spot where authorities later found four spent shotguns shells from the rounds they believe he fired later that night.
Zumberge’s actions, captured on a security camera mounted on the front of the victim’s house, were described by a state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Wednesday on the third and final day of the murder trial of Zumberge’s wife, Paula Zumberge.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Anna Christie rested her case midmorning after calling a police officer and the BCA agent to the witness stand. Paula Zumberge’s attorney, Gary Wolf, had intended to have his client and her husband testify, but decided Tuesday evening against that tactic because he believed that there was enough reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case.
Paula Zumberge, 50, is charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and two counts of second degree assault for allegedly encouraging her husband as he fired at their neighbors.
“The case went in so well for the defense that there was no need to put any defense case on,” Wolf said after testimony and closing arguments Wednesday.
Ramsey County District Court Judge Lezlie Ott Marek said she anticipated issuing a decision in the case next week. Paula Zumberge waived her right to a jury trial, and was tried before the judge.
Wolf said in his closing arguments that shooting victim Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, who survived the attack, lied on the witness stand to exact revenge for the death of her longtime boyfriend, Todd G. Stevens. Stevens suffered multiple buckshot wounds in the shooting and died from massive internal bleeding due to a wound to his aorta. He was also shot in the head and spinal column.
“…it comes to [Damerow-Cleven] that this woman [Paula Zubmerge] needs to suffer just like she has to suffer without her Todd Stevens,” Wolf said in his closing arguments. “But she needed time to think about it. She needed time to compose a lie.
“This is a person who likes to get even, and she did,” Wolf said. “Paula Zumberge is here.”
Damerow-Cleven’s credibility, or lack thereof, factored into the decision not to put Paula and Neal Zumberge on the stand, Wolf later said. William Orth, who is representing Neal Zumberge and watched this week’s proceedings, said that the Zumberges were notified of the change early Wednesday.
Wolf said that Paula Zumberge wanted to testify. Neal Zumberge was in custody at the courthouse ready to testify.
“His only concern is his wife,” Orth said.
In three days of testimony, Christie tried to show that Paula Zumberge encouraged her husband as he allegedly shot at Stevens and Damerow-Cleven, who lived across the street from the Zumberges in New Brighton.
“Neal and Paula Zumberge were in it together,” Christie said in her closing arguments. “Together in life as partners in marriage, and together in life against those people across the street, Todd Gordon Stevens and Jennifer Damerow-Cleven.”
Christie said that Paula Zumberge plotted with Neal Zumberge and baited Stevens and Damerow-Cleven so her husband could shoot them. The Zumberges had reached a breaking point, Christie said.
Neal Zumberge, 57, is charged with second-degree murder with intent and attempted second-degree murder. He is being tried separately at an undetermined date in the future.
Earlier Wednesday, BCA agent Chris Olson testified about the contents of the surveillance video.
“He’s crouching down,” Olson said of Neal Zumberge’s actions at 2:35 p.m. that day, six hours before the fatal shooting. “He’s laying down. He’s going back and forth to the house.”