Attorney Terri Melcher gave the closing argument of her life Friday. But she wasn't wrapping up a trial.
The victim of a stabbing attack in her Fridley office that almost killed her in 2010, she gracefully delivered a 15-minute impact statement that left many of her relatives and legal colleagues in an Anoka courtroom in tears.
Her attacker, Sheikh Nyane — who would receive a nearly 17-year sentence — apologized to Melcher, asking for forgiveness for his "evil" acts and talking of a lifelong struggle with mental illness and the pain of losing his young son in a custody battle. His ex-wife had been represented by Melcher, who hadn't heard a frantic voice mail saying Nyane planned to kill somebody a minute before he entered her office and stabbed her 25 times.
"As the stabbing continued, I told myself I was too young to die," Melcher said during her impact statement. "But I was hoping my husband knew where I put my life insurance policy."
Anoka County Judge Thomas Fitzpatrick sentenced Nyane to 200 months in prison and told him there was no justification for what he did. He acknowledged that Nyane's depression played a role in his violent behavior, describing it as a vicious and brutal act on an innocent and defenseless victim just doing her job.
"The only reason you aren't going to prison for life is that the knife broke and she survived," he said.
He was referring to the knife's tip, which snapped off in Melcher's skull after the first blow. That didn't stop him, Melcher said, as he continued to stab her face and upper body and cut her throat.
She needed 137 stitches and hours of surgery. While Melcher was on the operating table, a telephone was held to her ear for her to give a statement to police. She was later told it was done at that time because they believed she was going to die, she told the courtroom.
Nyane, 36, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty in November to first-degree attempted murder. He spent nearly a year at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter for treatment. In four evaluations, different psychologists deemed him competent and incompetent to stand trial. At his plea hearing in November, Nyane had to be tackled to the floor by sheriff's deputies during an outburst in court.
On Friday, Melcher, now 58, said to the judge that the only way she could convey the impact of the stabbing was "to tell you my story."
Her nightmare started in June 2010 when Nyane lost custody of his then 3-year-old son and was ordered to turn over the boy's passport to Melcher, she said.
Nyane walked into her office about a week later on a Friday afternoon. Being the eternal optimist, Melcher said, she thought he was dropping off the passport. She hadn't heard the ominous voice mail.
Then she saw the knife in his hand.
"You aren't going to mess with me," he told her. "I'm going to kill you."
A struggle ensued, Melcher sticking her finger in Nyane's eye. The repeated stabbing caused her to breathe her own blood, she said. In a last attempt to stop him, she said, she told him, "I'm not trying to hurt you." And, for some reason, he responded, "You aren't going to die today."
He walked away and she called 911. Nyane turned himself in to police 40 minutes later, knife in hand.
Melcher said she knew she was alive the next day when she heard her husband snoring in the hospital room, which made everybody in the courtroom laugh. An additional surgery eventually restored the nerve damage to her face.
She didn't cry during her statement until she told the judge, "I appear pretty well, but I now view the world in a different way." She compulsively locks the doors to her house and "I now see evil in the world."
In asking for the 200-month sentence, prosecutor C. Blair Buccicone reminded the judge of a "hit list" Nyane had in his pocket that day he attacked Melcher. Uncontrolled rage, not mental illness, caused him to stab her, Buccicone said.
Nyane, speaking in broken English, said he tried to get help for the deep depression he sank into after he lost custody of his son. Then, crying, he said, "My child is everything to me."
"Every day is a nightmare for me," he said. "What I did, that behavior wouldn't get me my son back."
As he was led out of the courtroom, Nyane thanked three women sitting in the front row of the gallery. Outside the chamber, a group of Melcher's supporters gathered in the hallway, lining up to hug her. County Attorney Tony Palumbo, who attended the hearing, called Melcher a tremendous person and said he hoped Nyane got the treatment he needed in prison.
Standing next to her husband, Melcher said that it felt good to hear Nyane apologize for the first time and that she was glad it was the last time she would have to come to court.
"I'm thankful to be here," she said with a big smile.