At left, James Mileski (right) talks with his attorney John D’Angelo Tuesday in Marinette County Circuit Court in Marinette. Mileski is charged with four felony counts stemming from a New Year’s Day stabbing. His trial continues today. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
At left, James Mileski (right) talks with his attorney John D’Angelo Tuesday in Marinette County Circuit Court in Marinette. Mileski is charged with four felony counts stemming from a New Year’s Day stabbing. His trial continues today.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - A New Year's Day altercation that led to the stabbing of one man and the incarceration of another is at the heart of a jury trial that started Tuesday in Marinette County Circuit Court.

It is the prosecution's position that Dennis J. Vanabel was stepping in to aid a woman being beaten by her boyfriend. The defense, however, contends that James A. Mileski, 23, was only defending himself from Vanabel's attack when he used his own knife to stab the man multiple times.

Both sides presented their opening statements Tuesday before Branch 1 Judge David Miron and the 12 jurors who had been selected.

Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey told jurors Vanabel and his friend, Michael McDowell, entered the Dunlap Square Apartments after 4:30 a.m. Jan. 1, witnessing Mileski pulling his girlfriend, Sarah Merchant, into the building by her collar. According to testimony at earlier hearings and again Tuesday, McDowell, Vanabel and Merchant's friend, Holli DeLorme, all saw Mileski punch Merchant in the face with a closed fist, which incited Vanabel to attack Mileski.

Vanabel and McDowell share an apartment on the third floor of the Dunlap Square Building, where Merchant and Mileski also live - on the second floor. DeLorme is friends with Mileski and Merchant.

What all five young people had in common was that they were out celebrating New Year's Eve the night before and were returning to the apartments.

According to Brey, the trouble began when DeLorme wanted to go to a party in Menominee, and was going to drive Mileski and Merchant in Mileski's truck. When Mileski changed his mind about going, and about Merchant going - an argument between the couple ensued.

As the argument went into the lobby, DeLorme has said Merchant called out for her twice. DeLorme, who ran into Vanabel and McDowell at the entrance, caught the inside security door just before it closed, and she said she and the two strangers saw Merchant on the floor, being dragged inside by Mileski.

"Then, Dennis and Mike see Jim Mileski punch Sarah Merchant in the head with a fist," Brey tells jurors. "Dennis pushed past and knocks Jim off of Merchant. Then the fight is on."

The fight, as told by both McDowell and DeLorme, who testified in court Tuesday, went from brawling and punching in one area of the entrance into another. When the two men separated at a point, a knife fell to the floor from Mileski's left side.

"Everyone sees the knife 'hit the deck,'" said Brey. "Mileski picks it up and closes with Vanabel."

DeLorme described it. "Jim went for the knife and pulled Dennis into his chest - like a hug - and then stabbed him (in the back). He (stabbed) him more than once."

When the two men fell to the floor, McDowell testifies he jumped in to help his friend and restrain Mileski by sitting on him, while holding one of Mileski's arms to his back and the other to the floor. It was then that Vanabel kicked Mileski in the head. According to DeLorme, it was more than once; McDowell said it was only one time, and then Mileski went limp. Vanabel, in the meantime, ran down the hall to get away.

"I figured he was knocked out," said McDowell, who got off of Mileski, only to see him get up and, according to McDowell, take a couple of swipes at him before rushing off after Vanabel.

Police eventually showed up, Vanabel was taken to Bay Area Medical Center and later flown to St. Vincent Hospital, Green Bay, for surgery.

Brey said testimony from physicians, officers and witnesses will show that Mileski should be found guilty.

John D'Angelo, the defense attorney for Mileski, told jurors the state has gotten its opportunity to tell one side of the story, "but you haven't heard what I have to say."

He painted a picture of a night of New Year's Eve celebration by all parties involved in this incident, celebration that started early and ended ugly.

D'Angelo said that DeLorme had been drinking more than she testified to, and that she wanted to go to the party in Menominee. He didn't argue that Mileski was against the idea and an argument ensued, but D'Angelo said as the couple walked into the lobby of the Dunlap building, "Sarah falls to the ground and my client tries to get her up. They (the other witnesses) say Jim Mileski punched his girlfriend with his right hand, but her injury is on the right side."

D'Angelo added that Merchant denied that Mileski had hit her and said he was trying to pick her up, "then these two guys rush Jim and push him up against the wall. Sarah tries to stop them, but Vanabel continues. That's when she got hit."

Both McDowell and DeLorme testified Tuesday that Merchant ended up in the middle of the fight at one point as she tried to stop the two men. When they separated, the knife fell to the ground.

D'Angelo said it is not unusual for his client to have a knife, since he carries it for work.

"This is where you need to hear both sides," D'Angelo told the jury. "You hear he (Vanabel) was stabbed in the back. Vanabel and Mileski go after the knife and Mileski got it first. Vanabel tackles him and (stabs) him falling back. It makes more sense why Jim got him in the back.

"He was in the fight for his own life."

Tuesday, the prosecution began its case with testimony from McDowell and DeLorme, as well as hearing from Sgt. Todd Schoen and John Machnik, who lives in an apartment on the first floor of the Dunlap Building.

The prosecution will continue its case today.

Mileski, who has been in custody since the incident, is charged with four felony and four misdemeanor charges, including two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, aggravated battery and aggravated battery with intent to do great bodily harm. The combined maximum penalty is more than 67 years in prison and/or $122,500 in fines.