St. Paul man on trial for allegedly throwing toxic liquid on ex-wife

It was a dramatic first day of trial for a St. Paul man accused of attempting to kill his ex-wife by dumping a toxic liquid on her

More than three years after the incident occurred during a child custody visit in Central Park in Roseville, a Ramsey County jury heard directly from the alleged victim on the witness stand.

The woman survived the poisoning after being rushed to the hospital. On Wednesday, she recounted the near-fatal episode in excruciating detail.

Thorbjorn MacBain is charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault for the shocking episode that ultimately resulted in a hazmat response in the popular park on Sept. 23, 2020.

MacBain and his ex-wife agreed to meet at the park, so he could spend time with their two children in a public space.

She testified that given the weather that time of year, MacBain had oddly brought water guns for the kids to play with. She told the jury that at some point, he ended up behind her and then poured a cold liquid from a bottle down her back.

Shocked, the woman initially figured it was water, but then it started itching wickedly. She remembered thinking it smelled like an "exotic tea," and when she got it in her mouth and throat, it burned badly.

Authorities would eventually identify the apparent substance as liquid nicotine. Prosecutors played the woman’s desperate 911 call for assistance as the courtroom could hear her choking and vomiting. She eventually lost consciousness on the way to the hospital.

The defense, led by veteran criminal trial attorney Joe Tamburino, has countered that the case is full of holes. Tamburino painted the picture of a troubled ex-wife out to "get" the father of her children. He argued the woman could have ingested or been exposed to the liquid nicotine elsewhere, and chalked up her reaction that evening to an exaggerated panic attack even though doctors have said she nearly died from the poisoning.

Wednesday afternoon, while the alleged victim was under cross-examination, an evidentiary issue emerged, leaving the trial hanging by a thread. It involved the woman’s cell phone and text messaging history with MacBain. Specifically, what messages had been deleted and when, and what the defense was given access to as part of what’s known as evidence discovery in the case.

Proceedings were immediately halted, with Tamburino demanding a mistrial, arguing all texts between MacBain and his ex-wife are critical to their case, even those going back years before the alleged poisoning.

Ramsey County District Court Judge Sara Grewing told the parties she would have to strongly consider what to do next, inviting both sides to submit written arguments on Thursday. Judge Grewing promised a ruling before the trial is set to resume Friday morning when the woman’s testimony would otherwise be expected to continue.