ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Minnesota man charged with killing a neighbor in a long-running feud testified Monday that he believed the man was threatening his wife, even though he couldn't hear what his neighbor was telling her.
Neal Zumberge, 58, of New Brighton, is on trial in Ramsey County District Court on charges including first-degree premeditated murder for the May 5, 2014, shooting death of Todd Stevens, who was arguing with Zumberge's wife, Paula.
Testifying in his own defense, Neal Zumberge said he could hear Stevens and Paula Zumberge arguing across the street from him, but did not hear their exact words. However, he said, using lip-reading and other skills he learned from growing up with a deaf brother, he could tell Stevens threatened to kill her. Neal Zumberge said he also thought he saw Stevens reach for his belt to grab something, which he said he thought was a gun.
"I could get a good feeling for what he was saying," Zumberge said. "It wasn't good."
Prosecutors say Zumberge had a grudge against Stevens because of several disputes including Stevens' practice of feeding deer, which Zumberge blamed for a case of Lyme disease he and his dog once contracted. About a week before the shooting, Stevens and his girlfriend, Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, called police who arrested Zumberge's son, who was wanted for threatening Stevens and Damerow-Cleven previously.
The defense contends Stevens was a troublemaking drunk who often carried a gun and routinely threatened the Zumberge family.
Police determined Stevens had no gun when he was killed. Damerow-Cleven was wounded in the shooting. The charges also include attempted murder for her injury.
Zumberge testified he wanted to stop Stevens from harming Paula Zumberge but didn't intend to kill him. He said he didn't remember pulling the trigger of his 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun.
"I was bringing the gun up and it went off. It was just a blur. ... The gun kept going off."