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Alleged New Brighton shooter selling home to pay for defense attorney
Neal Zumberge's next court appearance June 26
A New Brighton man charged with two counts of second-degree murder made an abbreviated appearance in Ramsey County Court on June 18, without representation, to the chagrin of assistant Ramsey County attorney Anna Christie.
Neal Curtis Zumberge, 57, is accused of killing his neighbor, 46-year-old Todd G. Stevens, and wounding Stevens' girlfriend, 48-year-old Jennifer Cleven, after a long-simmering neighborhood dispute over deer feeding exploded into shotgun fire May 5. Zumberge allegedly ambushed the two outside their home.
Appearing without a lawyer, Zumberge explained to the presiding judge that he had been told he was ineligible for a public defender because he owned a home, though he had been attempting to contact public defenders in the days leading up to his hearing to no avail.
Zumberge said he put his home for sale in order to pay for a lawyer and that it had sold June 16, though he wouldn't have the proceeds from the sale until Aug. 1, when the deal on the house is to be closed.
Ramsey County District Judge Jennifer L. Frisch, who informed Zumberge he did qualify for a public defender, said she did not want to proceed with the hearing while Zumberge was without an attorney, ordering him to find either a public defender or a private lawyer, and to appear in court once again on June 26.
The week's delay was against the county's request for an expedited trial. Christie said Zumberge's wife, Paula Anne Zumberge, who is charged as a co-defendant with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, exercised her right to a speedy trial and had previously been represented by a private attorney.
Paula Zumberge, who allegedly urged her husband to "shoot, shoot, keep shooting," at the time of the attack, has pleaded not guilty to both charges; Neal Zumberge has yet to enter a plea. Both are being held on $1.5 million bail. Second-degree murder has a maximum of sentence of 40 years, while attempted second-degree murder has a maximum sentence of 20 years.
From deer feed to buckshot
Neal Zumberge and Stevens had clashed for some time; a part of the dispute was detailed in a Bulletin story in December 2012, which detailed Neal Zumberge's belief that Stevens was responsible for his contraction of Lyme disease, due to Steven's pastime of feeding the deer that passed through the Zumberge family's yard. Deer often have deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease.
The events of May 5, according to the criminal complaint, were set in motion when Cleven encountered 23-year-old Jacob Zumberge, Neal and Paula's son, at the Acapulco Restaurant in New Brighton earlier that day.
There, Jacob allegedly got into a heated discussion with Cleven, accusing Stevens of causing his father's illness, and threatening to burn down Cleven and Stevens' house.
Cleven called police, and Jacob, who was already wanted in Spring Lake Park for a run-in with the couple a week prior, was arrested and charged in Anoka County with two counts of making terroristic threats and one count of fifth-degree assault.
Returning home, Cleven allegedly encountered Paula Zumberge, who said to her, "You f-ing bitch, you put my son in jail," according to the complaint.
Stevens, hearing the confrontation from inside his home, came outside, at which point Neal Zumberge allegedly emerged, firing a semi-automatic shotgun repeatedly at the couple and wounding Cleven, who fled into the house.
Stevens was shot in the head, chest, stomach and extremities, according to the complaint, and his cause of death was ruled to be blood loss and cerebral lacerations from his wounds. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
According to the complaint, Neal Zumberge, who was arrested at his home following the shooting, told police that he and Stevens had clashed for 15 years, and that he'd exited his home through a basement window and shot him with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot, though he had not intended to shoot Cleven.
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.