A Platte County Court judge needs some more time to consider a verdict after a two-day bench trial for a 48-year-old Columbus man facing several counts of firing a BB gun at parked and moving vehicles in parking lots and city streets early this year.

Judge Frank Skorupa said he would take his ruling under advisement with no date set as to when he would announce a verdict in the case of Donald E. Ziemba Jr., charged with various counts of criminal mischief, discharging a firearm from the highway, disturbing the peace and third-degree assault.

Ziemba, who turns 49 today and has been in custody since his arrest, was aprehended in March for the spree of shootings that occurred from Jan. 16-Feb. 26, a period in which Columbus Police were investigating dozens of reports relating to windows being randomly shot out of vehicles in the community.

More than 30 of the offenses are Class III misdemeanors, with each carrying a penalty of up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. The assault charges are Class I misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

According to court records, the police began developing a suspect in the probe with the help of video surveillance in the areas of the crimes, along with other investigation that had been done on the incidents.

The suspect, according to Sgt. Bret Strecker’s arrest statement, was Ziemba driving a red 1996 Ford Explorer utility four-door.

“I was able to obtain a search warrant for the purpose of placing a tracking device on the vehicle (beginning Feb. 9),” Strecker reported. “The warrant was good for 30 days. It (tracker) ended up being on the vehicle for 16 days.”

Data from the tracker, coupled with surveillance video from crime scenes, identified Ziemba’s SUV as being at crime scenes within moments of shooting reports, police reported.

A large number of BBs and a BB gun were found in Ziemba’s possession and in his SUV during searches while the investigation was underway, police said.

In previous District Court news:

*District Judge Robert Steinke was giving second chances on Friday, sentencing two defendants to probation for taking some positive steps toward avoiding continued brushes with the law stemming from their involvement with drugs and alcohol.

The judge sentenced 21-year-old Earl Perry to 12 months of probation for his conviction of third-degree sexual assault and 24-year-old Austin Summers to 30 months of probation for attempted delivery of methamphetamine during hearings Friday in district court.

In the first district court case, Steinke pointed to Perry’s minimal previous criminal history and that a presentence investigation report ranked the defendant as low risk to reoffend as mitigating factors in his being sentenced to probation.

Court documents in the described an investigation that began when a Columbus Police investigator met with a local underage girl staying at the NOVA Treatment Community in Omaha who reported having sex with a 19-year-old male suspect.

Sgt. Bret Strecker reported the alleged victim said she had sexual contact with Perry on four occasions during  fall 2016 and that methamphetamine was involved during each encounter.

The girl, according to Strecker’s probable cause arrest statement, was 14 years old at the time.

On Friday, Steinke said the presentence investigation of the case revealed that Perry had problems with the abuse of alcohol and drugs. He said he wasn’t convinced the defendant was “motivated” to comply with probation terms that would bar him from using alcohol or illegal drugs.

“I don’t want to set you up to fail, we’d just be wasting everybody’s time,” the judge said. “If you don’t comply with the terms of probation, you’ll be right back here in court on a motion to revoke probation,” he warned the defendant.

Judge cited changes in former drug dealer’s life in imposing probation.

In another district court case, Steinke said a former Columbus man’s growing stability in life had earned him a shot a probation for his conviction of attempted delivery of meth to confidential informant during a drug transaction in June 2016 in Columbus.

Since that drug sale to a Nebraska State Patrol confidential informant equipped with a digital audio recording device, Steinke said, had held a good, steady job with a manufacturer, maintained a strong family system and made preparations to become a new father.

Those are “positive” changes made in the last couple of years, including maintaining an ongoing relationship with the expected mother of the couple’s child, the judge said.

Summers left Columbus and Nebraska shortly after his 2016 drug arrest and settled in Galesburg, Illinois. He was later arrested and charged in Platte County.

Steinke allowed Summers to serve his 30-month probation in the Illinois probation system.

Third-degree sexual assault is a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in the county jail. Attempted delivery of meth is a Class 2A felony that carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.

Jim Osborn is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at jim.osborn@lee.net.

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