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Several bullet holes are visible in the side of the victim's house as well as the door, Tuesday, May 6, in New Brighton.

David Joles, DML - Star Tribune

Victim in New Brighton deer feeding feud was shot in heart and head

  • Article by: Chao Xiong
  • Star Tribune
  • August 13, 2014 - 12:14 AM

 

A New Brighton man who was fatally shot this spring in a neighborhood dispute over feeding deer suffered mortal gunshot wounds to his heart and brain, according to testimony Tuesday in Paula Zumberge’s murder trial.

Graphic autopsy photos also were shown in Ramsey County District Court, documenting several buckshot wounds to the right shoulder area, left chest, face and abdomen of Todd G. Stevens, 46.

County assistant medical examiner Victor Froloff testified that Stevens likely lost consciousness within seconds of being shot and died within minutes as blood poured from a gunshot wound to his aorta.

Stevens was killed about 8:30 p.m. on May 5 after a confrontation with neighbors Neal and Paula Zumberge outside his New Brighton home.

Neal Zumberge, 57, is charged with second-degree murder with intent and attempted second-degree murder for allegedly killing Stevens and injuring his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, 48. He is being tried separately at an undetermined date.

Paula Zumberge, 50, is charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree assault. Assistant County Attorney Anna Christie said Paula Zumberge encouraged her husband as he fired four shots.

On day two of Paula Zumberge’s trial Tuesday, Froloff testified that a pellet entered Stevens’ face and lodged in the left side of his brain. Pellets damaged his spinal cord in two places, which would have caused paralysis, Froloff said.

The Zumberge family had been frustrated with Stevens for his habit of feeding deer, according to court and police records, and believed that Neal Zumberge and the family dog had contracted Lyme disease from a deer tick.

The dispute came to a head on May 5 when Damerow-Cleven called police on the Zumberges’ son, Jacob. Jacob Zumberge was wanted by police for a previous incident in which he allegedly threatened to kill Damerow-Cleven and Stevens.

New Brighton and Spring Lake Park police officers who were familiar with the dispute and who responded to the crime scene also testified Tuesday.

New Brighton officer Trevor Hamdorf said that tensions ramped up this spring, prompting him to send an e-mail in April to officers.

“At times, they weren’t 100 percent rational about what they were doing,” Hamdorf said of both households.

In his cross-examination of the officers, Paula Zumberge’s attorney, Gary Wolf, tried to show that the dispute had always been with Neal Zumberge and not his client.

New Brighton police Sgt. Mitchell Singer testified that he responded to the shooting and escorted Damerow-Cleven to an ambulance, asking her about the incident and informing her of Stevens’ death.

“Did she ever bring up Paula Zumberge?” Wolf asked.

“She did not,” Singer said.

“Did she say Paula Zumberge said, ‘Shoot ’em, shoot ’em’?” Wolf asked.

No, Singer said.

Wolf asked whether Damerow-Cleven accused Paula Zumberge of saying, “Shoot, shoot, keep shooting.”

No, Singer said.

Authorities have focused on the phrase “Shoot, shoot, keep shooting,” as proof of Paula Zumberge’s guilt. But when Damerow-Cleven testified Monday, she admitted that the phrase was never spoken in those exact words.

Wolf has maintained that his client never encouraged her husband and didn’t even know that he had crept up alongside the Zumberge home armed with a semiautomatic shotgun.

Neighbors have testified that Paula Zumberge was standing at the front of the Zumberge property line when the shooting occurred.

In cross-examination of witnesses, Wolf has tried to show that the shooting occurred so quickly that Paula Zumberge had no time to collude with or encourage her husband, who allegedly fired from farther back on the Zumberge property.

Damerow-Cleven said Monday that instead, Paula Zumberge said, “Shoot ’em, shoot ’em.”

Tuesday, New Brighton police detective Michael Lochen testified that Damerow-Cleven relayed that phrase to a 911 dispatcher on May 6 while hospitalized.

Damerow-Cleven met with Christie and Lochen on June 26 and discussed many details of the shooting. Wolf asked Lochen whether, at that meeting, Damerow-Cleven quoted anything from Paula Zumberge.

Lochen said she did not.

The trial will resume Wednesday morning with testimony by forensic scientists, surveillance video from Stevens’ home and testimony by Neal and Paula Zumberge.

 

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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