Platte County Court Judge Frank Skorupa said Monday during the sentencing of Donald Ziemba Jr. that he has zero belief the defendant’s crimes of shooting out numerous vehicle windows around the Columbus area were simple acts of criminal mischief.
Prior to the sentencing of the 49-year-old Columbus man, defense attorney Richard Register of Fremont acknowledged his client has a fairly significant criminal record – involving at least three DUI convictions and two felony convictions stretching back more than 20 years – but that his only run-ins with the law over the course of the last decade have been four driving-related offenses.
Arguing in favor of a stint of probation for Ziemba, Register said that his client’s criminal activity has been progressively deescalating and that probation – which he also took part of after his third DUI – would be an effective option rather than a jail sentence, which he also argued wouldn’t be a cost-effective option.
Skorupa, though, made it clear probation wasn’t on the table.
“It’s my opinion that your conduct escalated to the point where I truly believe you were trying to injure people,” Skorupa said of the BB gun shooting . “It wasn’t a matter of criminal mischief, a ‘ha ha, isn’t that funny,’ type of thing. I truly believe in my heart that you were trying to injure people through your actions."
Ziemba, who in mid-September was found guilty on 28 charges relating to criminal mischief, disturbing the peace and discharging a firearm/weapon from a highway, was sentenced to a total of 645 days in the Platte County Jail.
The total sentencing, Skorupa said, was determined by breaking down each incident of vandalism the defendant was convicted of.
“Those three charges, if you will, in each instance is to be served concurrent (together), but consecutive (one after the other) to each of the other (isolated) incidences,” Skorupa said.
The state, being represented by Chief County Deputy Attorney Breanna Anderson, asked for Skorupa to require the defendant to pay a sum of restitution to the victims, however, the judge determined that Ziemba doesn’t have the financial ability to complete payments.
While being questioned by Register during a restitution hearing prior to sentencing, Ziemba said that he’s been receiving disability checks from the state since 2002. He also recently became a recipient of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Currently, he said, his monthly income between the two assistance programs is about $900. He added that his expenses actually exceed this, but noted that he’s receiving additional outside support.
Ziemba, who has maintained his innocence since his March arrest, took part in a two-day bench trial in August which required Skorupa to review the case for additional time before handing down a verdict and Oct. 1 sentencing date.
Originally, Ziemba faced more than more than 30 Class III misdemeanors, each carrying a penalty of up to three months in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
Columbus Police, as previously reported by The Telegram, 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.
Following sentencing, Ziemba was immediately handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom by several Platte County Sheriff’s Office deputies. Skorupa credited the defendant with seven days served in the Platte County Jail.
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org