Defendant Neil Zumberge testified on his own behalf during his murder trial in Ramsey County Monday morning, telling jurors he shot his neighbor, Todd Stevens, last year because he thought Stevens was going to harm Zumberge's wife, Paula.
Zumberge, 58, of New Brighton, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder for the May 5, 2014, killing of Stevens and the wounding of Stevens' girlfriend, Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, who lived across the street from him.
That evening, Damerow-Cleven and Paula Zumberge were arguing with each other in front of the Stevens house when the men came out of their respective homes. Zumberge brought a shotgun.
Zumberge testified Monday he fired the gun at Stevens because he believed Stevens was threatening Paula. He said he could read Stevens' lips and saw him say "I’m going to kill that [expletive] [expletive]," according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Zumberge also said Stevens occasionally carried a small handgun in his waist, and he believed Stevens was reaching for one at that time.
Zumberge said he fired the shotgun several times at Stevens and Damerow-Cleven, but doesn't really remember how it all happened, KARE 11 reports.
"Everything was just a blur," Zumberge testified. "The gun just kept going off."
He said he didn't mean to kill Stevens.
It turns out Stevens was not armed at the time of the shooting.
The defense hopes to prove that Zumberge was acting in self-defense when he fired the fatal shots.
The prosecution argued he had planned the act ahead of time; indeed, Zumberge testified that he had taken his 12-gauge shotgun out of storage, loaded it and put it under his living room couch a week before the incident, according to the Pioneer Press.
Zumberge told the court he did so because a feud between the two families that had been simmering for years was getting worse, the newspaper reports.
Prosecutors say the Zumberges were upset by the deer feeders on Stevens’ property and blamed the animals for a case of Lyme disease Neal Zumberge said he’d contracted. The disease is spread through deer ticks.
Last year Damerow-Cleven had obtained a restraining order against Neal Zumberge, who she said was harassing her.
Damerow-Cleven had called police before the shooting to report that the Zumberges’ adult son, Jacob, had threatened to kill her and Stevens, authorities say.
Paula Zumberge was acquitted in August 2014 of several charges in connection with the case, including aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Prosecutors claimed that she had helped her husband plan the attack and encouraged him to keep shooting.
The defense rested its case early Monday afternoon. Closing arguments will take place Tuesday morning and then the jury will get the case.
The judge told jurors they will be sequestered overnight in a hotel if they don't reach a verdict by the end of the day Tuesday, according to the Pioneer Press.