The disturbing case of a former Burke High School student’s near-fatal attraction plays out in court files in two ways.
One is a chilling surveillance video of a girl — having broken up with Nick Cisar months before — walking down a Burke hallway thumbing through her cellphone, unaware that her ex-boyfriend is lurking nearby.
In a video that a judge called “almost impossible to watch,” the next several frames show Lacey Paige, then 15, literally running for her life after Cisar sneaks up behind her and jams a knife into her back.
The other is in Cisar’s notes from the hospital after his attempt to take Lacey’s life and his own.
Unable to speak because he had slit his throat, Cisar spills a mix of regret, depression, angst and adolescence, repeatedly asking if his ex-girlfriend is OK and why he didn’t die.
Now the entire case will play out in juvenile court after a judge concluded this week that Cisar, 17½, should be tried there rather than in adult court over the Oct. 9, 2018, assault.
Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty’s decision sparked outrage from Lacey and her family, according to their attorney, Darren Pekny of Omaha.
"They're disappointed in the judge's ruling," Pekny said Friday. "They wanted it to stay in adult court based upon his age and the severity of the crime so, yeah, it's upsetting to them."
And to Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine.
“It’s shocking,” Kleine said. “I understand the court sometimes has a difficult job to do. But this is not a case that I anticipated would get transferred to juvenile court, especially when the defendant is 17½ and will age out of the system in a year and a half.”
In Nebraska’s justice system, juvenile court maintains jurisdiction over a defendant until age 19.
Cisar’s attorney, James Martin Davis, pushed for the transfer, noting that both a defense psychologist and a state psychiatrist had recommended that the case be handled in juvenile court.
In his six-page order, Dougherty relied heavily on the mental health professionals’ opinions. They noted Cisar’s lengthy personal and familial history of mental illness and suicide attempts.
Dr. Klaus Hartmann, a state psychiatrist at the Lincoln Regional Center, wrote that Cisar “has reasonable goals for the future and appears determined to follow through.”
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“He is considered to be rather fragile in view of his and his family’s history,” Hartmann wrote. “Placing him in an adult correctional setting would most probably be deleterious to him and amount to a major setback. ... He expresses considerable remorse as to what has happened.”
What happened played out in chilling detail on school surveillance cameras.
The video shows Lacey walking to the restroom from her ROTC class. She passes a teacher and scrolls through her phone, unaware that Cisar is lurking.
Backpack slung over his shoulder, Cisar walks down a hallway. He glances over his shoulder to make sure that one teacher isn’t watching him. He then stops at a water fountain to get a drink while another teacher approaches.
Cisar veers past the teacher, who is going the opposite way, and ducks into a doorway.
Lacey then circles out of the restroom. Cisar lets her pass.
He checks to make sure that the teacher is still going the other way before walking quickly toward Lacey. He puts his left hand on her neck, then uses his right hand to stab her in the middle of her back. She reflexively grabs the wound in her back and pivots to face him, then takes off running.
The video then shows Lacey furiously scrambling for her life. Off camera, she is stabbed two to three more times. Prosecutors say the three or four stab wounds to her midsection lacerated her liver and nicked her pancreas. She now has nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder, prosecutors say.
“This could have easily been a murder,” Kleine said.
Cisar’s scribblings from his hospital bed show his adolescent outlook on life, his disturbed state and a mix of distress over his actions and over the fact that he and Lacey are no longer together.
In missives to his mom, he wrote that it had been four months since “we broke up.”
On hospital stationery, Cisar wrote: “I loved her more then I loved myself and I couldn’t stand to see her get over me.”
Later, he asks if Lacey is in the same hospital. (She was.) He writes that he thinks he can hear her screaming. (There’s no evidence that Lacey was the patient he thought he heard.)
“Can she walk” he asks in his scribblings. “I’m scared I parilized her”
“Am I going to be in trouble
I miss her — the person I hurt
... I tried to hurt her very badly”
“I can’t stop replaying the memorie wishing I held her hand as we both bleed”
“I just want to be happy but I’m always sad She was the one thing that ever made me happy”
“Is my life and my friend’s life in jeopardy? Is she going to be traumatized for life”
“did you talk to my friends ... How long until i get my ps4 back”
“How many times did I stab her. Why did they save me? I tried to kill someone.”
That fact seemed to be lost in the experts’ opinions, Kleine argued.
The defense psychologist, James Mathisen, wrote that he “does not believe these incidents involved premeditation.”
Kleine noted that Cisar had been stewing about the breakup for months, that he brought a knife to school and that he was lying in wait in a hallway.
“I don’t understand how anyone can say it wasn’t premeditated,” he said.
Based on Mathisen and Hartmann’s testimony, Judge Dougherty concluded that the act was “inextricably intertwined with the defendant’s mental illness including, but not limited to, major depression.”
Dougherty noted that under state law, judges “shall” transfer the case unless prosecutors prove that it should be in adult court.
“The court acknowledges the issue of public safety being relevant ... but the court is not of great concern at this time about public safety,” he wrote. “The court further notes that this is a one-time incident.”
Kleine hopes so. He said he’s concerned about the limited amount of time that the juvenile court system will have to work with Cisar.
Dougherty wrote that the court recommends that Cisar “continue in secured detention, or at a minimum, supervision but does not find that, at this time, this is necessary beyond his age of minority.”
Long before the judge ruled, one party in the case had an opinion on whether he would be treated as a juvenile or an adult: Cisar himself.
“I think we all know where I’m gonna be,” Cisar wrote. “We just don’t want to admit it — I’m going to be locked up.”