Defendant James Mileski looks down as Judge Dave Miron reads the verdicts Friday in Marinette County Circuit Court. Mileski was convicted of five charges related to a New Year’s Day stabbing. <br><i>EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard</i>
Defendant James Mileski looks down as Judge Dave Miron reads the verdicts Friday in Marinette County Circuit Court. Mileski was convicted of five charges related to a New Year’s Day stabbing.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - A Marinette County jury convicted James Mileski of five counts, including two felony charges, relating to the New Year's Day stabbing of Dennis Vanabel at the Dunlap Square Apartments in downtown Marinette.

Mileski, 23, sat with his head tilted down Friday afternoon in Circuit Court Branch 1 as Judge Dave Miron read the verdicts from the 12-person jury. About two dozen friends and family members of Mileski were in the courtroom. Mileski's girlfriend, Sarah Merchant, sobbed openly, while the others were somber as the verdicts were announced.

The panel, comprised of seven women and five men, convicted Mileski of the felony counts of first-degree recklessly - endangering safety use of a dangerous weapon and aggravated battery - intend great bodily harm use of a dangerous weapon. He also was found guilty of misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, battery and possession of THC.

The felonies, one a Class F and the other Class H, carry a combined possible punishment of 281⁄2 years in prison and/or $35,000 in fines.

The sentence hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 13.

The jury, which deliberated for about four hours, rendered not guilty verdicts on two other felony charges - first-degree recklessly endangering safety - use of a dangerous weapon and aggravated battery - intend great bodily harm use of a dangerous weapon, along with a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Mileski stabbed Vanabel, 37, multiple times at about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 1 after Vanabel and his friend, Michael McDowell, were returning to the Dunlap Square Apartments where they were roommates. Vanabel testified he saw Mileski punching Merchant, and came to her defense.

Mileski and Merchant, who also lived in the building, along with their friend, Holli DeLorme, also were celebrating New Year's Eve.

A fight occurred in the lobby area in which Vanabel said Mileski stabbed him several times in the back. Vanabel fled down the hall and through a security fire door and he contends Mileski followed him and stabbed him again in the chest and arm.

The not guilty felony verdicts were related to the fight in the lobby, while the guilty verdicts were a result of the fight down the hall by the security fire door. The guilty battery verdict was the result of Mileski punching Merchant.

District Attorney Allen Brey said a key to the guilty verdicts was the testimony of DeLorme, a friend of Merchant's since their middle school years.

"I'm very happy for Holli DeLorme," he said outside the courtroom. "It's hard to stand up against your friends and say they did wrong. Obviously, she's paid a price for doing that, but it's what we teach our children and expect of adults and she did it. I give her all the credit in the world for doing it and I'm glad there are people in this community who can do that, who will do that."

In speaking with DeLorme, Brey said he knows some of her friends are giving her a hard time and that the defense tried to drag her through the mud.

"It takes a lot of courage," he said. "She did the right thing and this is the thanks she gets."

Brey said he's also happy for Vanabel, the stabbing victim.

"I would hope that if an able-bodied man sees a man beating on a woman that he does what he can to stop it," he said. "For his trouble he got stabbed a mess of times ... I think he's a standup guy and I'm very pleased for him."

Defense attorney John D'Angelo of De Pere was not available for comment, but during his closing argument he claimed Mileski never hit Merchant and his client was attacked by two men and simply was defending himself.

"You heard Sarah, she said it was two on one," he told the jury. "Jim, you heard it in his interview. He said it was two on one. Jim was in the fight for his life."

D'Angelo argued that Vanabel kept attacking and Mileski never had time to retreat.

"The fact of the matter is there was a stabbing, but my client was acting in self defense," he said, adding that the only reason Mileski ran down the hallway toward Vanabel is that it was the closest way to get to his apartment.

"Dennis didn't get stabbed down the hallway, it's just convenient for them (the state) to say he did," the defense attorney said. "The state wants you to jump to conclusions. Look at the facts and you will see that my client acted in self defense."

D'Angelo also contends that Merchant sustained injuries to her head when she was trying to break up the fight. He said Mileski never hit her.

"It convenient for the sparkplug to be, Sarah got hit," he said. "But nobody really saw it, because they can't even place who was standing in the doorway."

Brey said the battery conviction shows the jury believed that Mileski punched Merchant.

The district attorney said the jury may have been unclear about what happened in the lobby area and admits the state may not have presented that effectively.

"One thing she (Merchant) did say was that Jim Mileski went down the hall with a knife toward Dennis Vanabel and they convicted on that as well," Brey said. "You go through a fire door at a guy with a knife in your hand and he's already bleeding, it's awful hard to claim somehow there's self-defense there. That's why there was a second set of (felony) charges. I saw it as two transactions."

Brey said this incident could have been greatly downgraded if not for the black-handled knife, with the 3-inch serrated blade.

"If there's no knife here, I'm fairly confident that we end up with some kind of a fistfight out of the deal," he said. "We sort it out later and no one's seriously injured. It's probably a good idea if you're going out drinking to leave the pocket knives at home."

Brey said this incident shows that good people can find themselves in bad situations.

"I think the five people going in that building are all good people," he said. "I think four out of the five were highly intoxicated. When you drink a lot of alcohol your judgment flies out the window, that's just the way it is.

"I don't think a sober Jim Mileski ever lays a finger on Sarah Merchant. That's not the kind of guy he is. Yet, a highly-intoxicated Jim Mileski with a highly-intoxicated Sarah Merchant pushing his buttons, yeah, I can see him losing control and striking her. I can't accept it, but I can understand it."

Brey said there are two factors that made this a difficult case - the mounted security cameras in the lobby of the apartment building were not working and the vast amount of alcohol consumption.

As for the camera, he said, he hopes they have been repaired. Regarding the alcohol, he said, "Anyone who's ever drank to excess, when it comes to reconstructing the events from the previous evening it's like scrambled eggs, the order gets mixed up. To try to make sense out of the judgment of intoxicated people - good luck."