Hennepin County prosecutors said Thursday that a taekwondo master plotted with a student-turned-girlfriend in an attempt to kill the mother of his child, while his attorney claims he's being wrongfully accused of an ambush shooting he didn't commit or assist.
Opening statements got underway in the trial of Timothy Allen Amacher, 41, of St. Paul, who stands charged with attempted first-degree murder and aiding an accomplice after the fact in connection to the shooting of Nicole Lenway on April 20 outside a Minneapolis child-care center. The former student and girlfriend, Colleen Purificacion Larson, 24, of Woodbury, is charged with firing the shots while Amacher was inside the center with his son. Larson claims Amacher pressured her into shooting Lenway, who is a crime scene investigator with Minneapolis police.
Despite a life-threatening gunshot to her neck, Lenway recovered from the attack and remains employed by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
"He knew that no one would suspect him because he was inside," Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Jacob Fischmann said. "What he didn't know is that Nicole Lenway would survive and be able to tell her story."
Larson's trial is slated for January after District Judge Shereen Askalani ordered separate trials.
Fischmann set the scene for jurors. While Amacher wasn't the shooter, he said, "he was the screenwriter, director and producer."
Evidence will show, Fischmann said, that Larson drove Amacher's truck — which has Wi-Fi inside that connects to traceable cell towers — to the day-care center to shoot Lenway.
The prosecution shared background on Amacher's relationships with Lenway and Larson, who both met Amacher while taking taekwondo classes from him.
Lenway and Amacher moved in together in late 2013, but their relationship quickly turned rocky, Fischmann said. Amacher frequently accused Lenway of cheating.
"He's a drinker, jealous man, not a trusting person," Fischmann said.
She moved out in 2015 and found out she was pregnant with their son, who was born June 2016. Fischmann said things changed significantly in 2017 when Lenway got a new boyfriend, an MPD officer who is expected to testify.
Fischmann said that Lenway once came home to find her deadbolt unlocked with Amacher inside and rose petals everywhere. She told him to leave. On another occasion, he said she allegedly came home to find he painted "Slut for Cops" across her garage door.
Amacher then began reporting "bogus" claims, Fischmann said, of child abuse and domestic abuse to gain custody. Instead, authorities, inundated with these reports, determined they were all fabricated and that Amacher could only have supervised visitation, he said.
According to court records in their child custody case filed in 2018, Amacher's parenting time was suspended until further notice given the criminal charges against him. The court found this was in the best interest of their child.
Amacher's attorney, Larry Reed, painted a different picture of his client. Reed said Amacher's reports of child abuse were never investigated.
"All a sudden he's the bad guy for reporting," Reed said.
Reed said that Amacher filed a report with internal affairs alleging that Lenway confessed to fabricating evidence in the case of Jamar Clark, who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police in 2015.
"She's still there evidently with no consequences," Reed said.
Reed also pointed to the "overwhelming" list of 100 witnesses to make up for a lack of evidence.
"There are no facts to support the state's claim that my client aided and abetted anyone," he said.
"My client was wrongfully accused. He did nothing," Reed said.
Fischmann argued otherwise. He said Amacher went to Driver and Vehicle Services the day before the attack to get vanity plates and remove existing plates. The black Dodge Ram truck Amacher owns was without plates at the time of the shooting. Fischmann also said Amacher put Superman stickers on the vehicle the day after the shooting and told police that the vehicle shown on surveillance couldn't be his because it didn't have stickers.
The three discharged .380-caliber casings at the crime scene matched ammunition found at Amacher's St. Paul home, Fischmann said, and cellphone towers traced Larson driving Amacher's truck from his taekwondo studio in White Bear Lake to their home, then to FamilyWise in Minneapolis, which is a supervised visit and exchange center.
He said that Larson, while wearing a mask, waited for Lenway to drop off her son for Amacher's scheduled supervised visitation about 7:30 p.m. Larson then ran up to her in the parking lot with her arm extended and started shooting. Two bullets struck Lenway. A woman applied pressure to her neck. She was rushed to the hospital and intubated for five days.
Amacher was booked into Hennepin County jail the following week. Fischmann said that Amacher told authorities: "This is all a setup by MPD to get me in trouble."
Prosecutors called only one witness to testify Thursday, FBI agent Richard Fennern. He shared with jurors his findings from the cellphone tower analysis that placed Amacher's truck at the scene of the crime. This is backed by video surveillance from businesses in the area, he said, and traffic cameras along the route.
Testimony will resume Monday.