Stabbing victim testifies
Vanabel recounts events of Jan. 1
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - A Marinette man who was stabbed multiple times early New Year's Day said the altercation started because he came to the aid of a woman after he saw her getting punched in the head.
Dennis Vanabel was on the witness stand Wednesday in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 1. He is shown describing a fight he had with James Mileski on New Year’s Day. Mileski is on trial for stabbing Vanabel multiple times. The trial continues today with the prosecution wrapping up its case and the defense presenting its witnesses.
Dennis J. Vanabel, 37, testified Wednesday in the second day of the trial against James A. Mileski, 23, in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 1. Mileski faces eight charges, including four felony charges. The combined maximum penalty is more than 67 years in prison and/or $122,500 in fines.
Both men lived in the Dunlap Square Apartments at the time of the incident - Mileski on the second floor and Vanabel on the third floor.
Vanabel, an Ishpeming, Mich., native who works at Marinette Marine Corp., said he and Michael McDowell, his roommate at the time, were returning to their apartment at about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 1 when he saw a "good-looking blonde girl" (Holli DeLorme) standing at the front door of the building.
"I had noticed some commotion going on in the lobby and I said 'what is there a fight or something?'" Vanabel said. "She made a comment like 'yeah, I hate drunk people' or something like that."
Vanabel said he entered the main door of the apartment building and then ran to catch the secure door before it shut.
"That's when I see this girl laying on the ground and this guy standing above her," he said. "I saw him reach down and strike her like this (making a fist motion) two times (in the head)."
Vanabel testified the man was Mileski and he was punching his girlfriend, Sarah Merchant. The other woman, DeLorme, is friends with both Mileski and Merchant and the trio were celebrating New Year's Eve.
Vanabel said he shoved Mileski off Merchant. District Attorney Allen Brey asked him why he took action.
"To stop this attack on her," he answered. "I just thought I would do what anybody else would do and try to help out, stop him."
Vanabel said a fistfight ensued and he felt Mileski hitting his back with something (later determined to be a knife blade). He said he was able to throw Mileski to the ground and McDowell jumped on top of him.
Vanabel said he regained his composure, looked at Mileski who was laying on the ground with McDowell on him, and saw a knife in Mileski's left hand.
"It was a serrated 3-inch blade with a black handle," the victim said when asked to describe the knife.
Vanabel said he then kicked Mileski in the face, hoping it would subdue him.
Vanabel said he retreated down the hallway and through a fire door. He said Mileski chased him and he tried to hold the door shut, but Mileski was able to push it open. Merchant also followed Mileski through the door, he said.
"I see James and he's standing there with his knife going like this (swinging it back and forth)," Vanabel said. "I blocked it (Mileski's arm) with my elbow and I punched him twice in the face."
Vanabel said at that point he got stabbed twice in the front of his body - near the left elbow and in the chest.
Vanabel said he was able to go back through the fire door and make his way to the front lobby. He then yelled for McDowell.
"I said the guy just stabbed me, call 911, I think I'm going down," he said.
Just seconds later, Vanabel said, a police officer arrived, followed shortly by rescue personnel. He said he was taken by ambulance to Bay Area Medical Center and then transported to St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay. He said he remembers waking up Jan. 2 in the intensive care unit.
Vanabel said he sustained 10 stab wounds - the two in front and eight in the back.
The prosecution had a full day Wednesday as medical personnel, police officers and crime lab experts all testified.
Two surgeons - Dr. Adeel Khan from BAMC and Dr. Matthew Johnson of St. Vincent - testified about the severity of Vanabel's injuries. Both men said the victim's most serious injury was a punctured lung that required the insertion of a chest tube.
Marinette Police Sgt. Joe Nault, investigator Mark Menor (a patrol officer at the time of the incident), and officers Ben Matzke, Jeff Cate, Craig Kopatz and Matt Borths all told what they saw that morning and explained their roles in the investigation.
Borths said as he entered the apartment building he saw two females (Merchant and DeLorme) shouting at each other.
"Holli was yelling that James had struck Sarah in the face," he said, "and Sarah was yelling back saying it was two other males (who hit her)."
Matzke conducted an interview with Mileski the morning of Jan. 1. The video of the interview was played in court. In the interview Mileski tells Matzke he can't recall much of what happened or why he was in a fight. "... I can't believe that would have been something I would have done," he said of the stabbing.
Cate's testimony lasted more than an hour and consisted primarily of physical evidence, including the knife, along with Vanabel's jacket, dress shirt, crew neck T-shirt and tank top undershirt he was wearing that night. He said he also took more than 400 photos at the scene and dozens of those were submitted as evidence.
Brey and the prosecution will wrap up its case today with Det. Lt. Pete Springer and Det. Sgt. John LaCombe from the Marinette Police Department, along with Merchant, taking the stand.
It then will be defense attorney John D'Angelo's turn and he is expected to call at least three witnesses. Merchant is also listed as one of the defense witnesses. It's not known if Mileski will take the stand.
If everything stays on schedule in Judge Dave Miron's courtroom, closing arguments could take place Friday morning. The case will then be in the hands of the 12-person jury.
The four felony charges Mileski faces are two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, aggravated battery and aggravated battery with intent to do great bodily harm.