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Shooting last summer was self-defense, Wehmas' attorney says

Stephanie Wehmas

Updated Saturday

When Stephanie Wehmas fired several rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into a Clover Township cabin last summer, striking her ex-boyfriend and another man, she was shooting in self-defense.

That was the assertion of her court-appointed attorney Friday morning at an omnibus hearing in Hubbard County District Court.

Wehmas, 21, Park Rapids, faces two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the shootings.

Her ex-boyfriend, Cody Paulson, was wounded in his inner thigh with a gunshot wound. Testimony indicated the two had a contentious relationship and that Paulson was the father of Wehmas' children.

Paulson's friend, Jason Walker, received a gunshot wound to the hand in the incident June 16, 2008, at 1 a.m.

Public defender Michael Undem argued that the search warrant should be dismissed because it lacked probable cause, and that count five in the array of charges against his client should be dismissed for the same reasons.

Wehmas fled the cabin after the shootings. She was spotted nearly an hour later on property owned by her grandparents near Osage.

Hubbard County Sheriffs Department investigator Jerry Tatro testified Wehmas' car got stuck in mud on the property. She fired a rifle at pursuing officers, blasting out the rear window of her own car, as officers moved in to arrest her.

A standoff lasting several hours took place before Wehmas was taken into custody without further incident, Tatro indicated.

Wehmas, a tiny woman, was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. She initially posted bond of $10,000 cash on the $100,000 bond set last summer, then was arrested July 24, 2008, on a violation of the conditions of her release. She has been jailed since. Judge Paul Rasmussen agreed to hear arguments in that alleged violation at another time.

At press time, no date had been set for that hearing, or for trial, scheduled tentatively for later this spring.

Wehmas faces unspecified charges in Becker County that are pending as well. Attorneys referred to a prior domestic incident between Paulson and Wehmas.

Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne argued that Wehmas planned the shootings and carried them out according to a prior threat.

She allegedly called the cabin two hours prior to the shootings, telling Paulson she was upset with him.

The criminal complaint states Wehmas announced to Paulson: "I am going to shoot you" just before she pulled the trigger.

She faces two additional counts of first-degree assault in the shootings of Paulson and Walker.

The attempted murder charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison upon conviction; the assault charges carry a maximum of 20 years and/or a $30,000 fine.

The contested fifth count, second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, involved Paulson's girlfriend.

There were conflicting accounts as to whether Wehmas fired at the woman or not.

The woman, named in the complaint as Candace Crouse, came outside the cabin that morning and was confronted by Wehmas, according to the complaint, Crouse raced indoors. The prosecution asserts a bullet whizzed by her head as she raced to the cabin.

Dearstyne indicates those shots were fired directly at Crouse. Undem maintains Crouse herself has disputed that evidence.

The judge has taken the matter under advisement.

Tatro testified that there were numerous bullet holes inside and outside the cabin. Investigators found a .22 near the mired car in Osage and a 30-06 rifle in the car when they searched it later.

An omnibus hearing is used to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.