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Self-defense or premeditated? Trial opens in New Brighton neighbors' fatal feud


Did a New Brighton man who was feuding with his neighbor over deer feeding kill the man in self-defense or in a cold-blooded calculation?

A Ramsey County jury will spend the next few weeks considering that question, as they weigh the fate of Neal Zumberge.

As FOX 9 reports, Wednesday's opening statements in Zumberge's murder trial portrayed him alternately as a man protecting himself and his wife from a neighbor he thought was drunk and possibly armed ... or as a killer who carried out the murder he'd planned.

Zumberge (right) is charged with first and second-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting death of Todd Stevens in May of 2014. Stevens' girlfriend, Jennifer Cleven, lived with Stevens in the home across the street from Zumberge's and was injured in the shooting.

Cleven and Zumberge's wife, Paula, were arguing across the street when the men came out of their respective homes; Zumberge with a shotgun.

WCCO reports that after defense lawyers said Zumberge thought Stevens was reaching toward a holster, Cleven testified that Stevens was unarmed and wore a large cell phone pouch around his waist.

WCCO says Cleven testified that she and Stevens had a good relationship with the Zumberge family for years, but it changed after Neal Zumberge lost his job.

Zumberge sent a letter to neighbors in 2012 complaining about Stevens' habit of putting out food for deer, saying that he'd contracted Lyme disease from deer ticks, the Star Tribune reports.

The following year animal parts and carcasses began showing up in their yard, leading Cleven and Stevens to get a restraining order against Zumberge, the newspaper says.

After defense lawyers argued Wednesday that Stevens had been vulgar and threatening toward Zumberge and frequently drank in his yard, prosecutors questioned a young couple who lived next door to Stevens and testified he had helped them with yard work and was typically more friendly when he drank, the Star Tribune reports.

WCCO says his lawyers indicated Zumberge will take the stand in his trial, which is expected to last two or three weeks.

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