A prominent Twin Cities criminal attorney invoked the U.S. founding fathers, the Constitution and the perfidy of a police sting in closing arguments to a jury Monday in the trial of a man most local sports fans know as Wally the Beer Man.
The fate of Walter McNeil and a fellow former Target Field vendor are with the four-women, two-men jury, which deliberated for three hours Monday afternoon and will resume deliberations Tuesday morning.
McNeil and co-defendant Ed Stepnick are accused of selling alcohol to minors Sept. 30 in a Target Field concourse just before a Twins game.
McNeil's attorney, Peter Wold, told jurors that the nation's founders crafted a constitution in which charged individuals have a presumption of innocence. He said police got people "dressed up at decoys" to get McNeil and Stepnick to break the law when they had no intention to do so.
"Something did not add up here," Wold told the jury, in summing up his case. "These are two very decent men. They are far from criminals. ... Good people should not be tricked into committing a crime.
"It's a new season. Let them have a chance to get on with it."
But Minneapolis Assistant City Attorney Judd Gushwa insisted that the two beer vendors had not been entrapped.
"Ed Stepnick and Walter McNeil sold alcoholic beverages to someone under the age of 21," he said, pointing at the men who sat with their lawyers. Anyone who sells to a minor is guilty of a crime, he said.
"The question is 'Did they do it?''' Gushwa said. "And they did."
McNeil, 76, has been carrying beer cases up and down the steps of Minnesota sports arenas and stadiums for 41 years. During those years, he has given away baseball cards with his picture on them and been written up or profiled in countless stories locally and nationally.
Joseph Daly, a law professor at Hamline University, said, "Everybody loves Wally the Beer Man," making it unlikely that a jury, no matter the facts, will convict him.
"As long as they (the defense) give any kind of legal rational to find him not guilty, they will," Daly predicted.
At the vendors' trial last week, Anthony Pasquale, 19, who worked for Minneapolis police on an alcohol compliance check, testified that McNeil didn't ask his age or request identification when accommodating Pasquale's request for a beer.
McNeil claimed that Pasquale said he was of legal age. Wold argued that Pasquale misrepresented what happened to please his police supervisors, since Pasquale hopes to becomes to become a police officer.
Stepnick, 52, claimed that he was shown an ID card by a woman, indicating that she was of legal age. Gushwa said the woman showed Stepnick him an ID saying she was 18, thus underage.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382