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Not guilty: Wife of alleged New Brighton shooter
Paula Zumberge acquitted of all counts in accessory to murder trial
Ramsey County District Court Judge Lezlie O. Marek found Paula Zumberge not guilty on all counts in her accessory to murder trial in a verdict delivered Aug. 19.
Beginning Aug. 11, Marek heard arguments concerning Zumberge's role in the May shooting that left a New Brighton man dead and his girlfriend injured. The shooting, allegedly by Zumberge's husband Neal, was apparently the bloody end to a longtime neighborhood feud over deer feeding.
Zumberge, 50, waived her right to a jury trial and was charged as an accessory to second degree murder for the May 5 shooting allegedly carried out by Neal, 57, that killed their neighbor Todd G. Stevens, 46, and wounded his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, 48.
Assistant Ramsey County District Attorney Anna Christie based much of the state's case against Zumberge on the defendant's alleged exhortation to her husband to "Shoot, shoot, keep shooting," during the incident, as Damerow-Cleven had said.
Christie's argument: that Zumberge was a knowing participant in a plot with her husband to ambush their neighbors.
The "shoot, shoot" quote became the linchpin of the case, as the defense argued that Damerow-Cleven was an inconsistent witness and that there was no evidence Zumberge had said what was claimed; therefore, there was no proof Zumberge conspired with her husband.
No shouting, no plot?
Marek wrote in her finding, "With respect to her intent to aid the crimes of murder in the second degree, attempted murder in the second degree, and assault in the second degree, the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant spoke any words of encouragement to Neal Zumberge either before or during the shootings."
Further, Marek cited in-court testimony.
"Ms. Damerow-Cleven's testimony at trial regarding the timing and details of the event's immediately surrounding the shooting differed between her direct and cross examinations," Marek wrote.
"The inconsistency of Ms. Damerow-Cleven's testimony and her repeated testimony that 'it just happened so fast,' demonstrate an understandable confusion regarding these chaotic and traumatic events."
Much of Marek's findings reflected on defense attorney Gary Wolf's closing arguments at trial.
Wolf had argued Damerow-Cleven would have mentioned Zumberge's role in the shooting to 911 operators and first responders instead of only in her third police interview. He also noted that the "Shoot, shoot" quote was similar to that reported by Damerow-Cleven's sister.
Wolf also said Damerow-Cleven's testimony to investigators could have been influenced by others and that the alleged shouting during the shooting was unsubstantiated by witnesses.
However, Marek also wrote the state's argument that Zumberge and Neal Zumberge had planned an ambush attack on Damerow-Cleven and Stevens, with Paula Zumberge luring the two out of the house by walking outside and yelling at them was "perhaps plausible," but noted the idea was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as Zumberge was not present much of the day prior to the attack and there was no other supporting evidence.
The defense chose to offer no case of its own, with no testimony from Zumberge, who waived her right to testify, or from her husband.
Zumberge was released on her own recognizance.
Neal Zumberge's attorney, Bill Orth, said that much of the evidence shown at Zumberge's trial, now sealed in the run-up to her husband's trial which begins Nov. 10, would be shown there as well.
"That was the dry run," Orth said.
Neal Zumberge is charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder.