The last thing that Al Dimmitt remembered before waking up in a hospital was hearing, “He’s got a knife,” and turning to see a pair of “malevolent” eyes headed his direction.
Casey Brezik, the man behind those eyes, doesn’t remember much about that day in September 2010. He had been awake for three straight days, living on the street and self-medicating years of untreated mental illness with alcohol and dope.
Brezik will get that treatment now — behind bars.
A Jackson County judge on Monday sentenced Brezik, 25, to 12 years in prison for the attacks on Dimmitt and another Metropolitan Community College official just before a scheduled appearance at the school’s Penn Valley campus by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
Brezik, 25, pleaded guilty in February to one count of first-degree assault, one count of second-degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action.
Before hearing his sentence, Brezik apologized to Dimmitt and MCC Chancellor Mark James.
“I have to take responsibility for this,” Brezik said. “I did commit a heinous act. I have to work on this so it never happens again.”
Much of the hearing focused on Brezik’s history of psychological problems, which began with a diagnosis of depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age 6.
Though family members described him as a happy child and good student, all that changed after his stepfather died in 2004. Brezik’s mother, Heather Brezik, said her son began began drinking, using marijuana and falling into the grip of schizophrenia.
His delusions later became grandiose, she said. “At that time, he thought he was the reincarnated Christ,” she said.
Brezik’s illness also incubated a profound paranoia for the government, to which he responded by becoming active in anarchist causes.
Jeanette Simmons, a clinical psychologist, testified that the event at the Penn Valley campus was particularly troubling for Brezik. Seeing a podium prepared for Nixon’s visit triggered Brezik’s conspiracy paranoia, which included mystical associations with the number 13, the Masons and the Illuminati.
“Based on my conversations with him, it was not a planned event,” Simmons testified. “It was a tragic event, the culmination of a thousand little things coming from his untreated mental illness.”
Nixon’s plane had landed in Kansas City just before the attack, but the governor had not arrived at the college.
As dignitaries gathered for the Sept. 14, 2010, event, Brezik bolted from a computer lab and lunged at Dimmitt, the college’s dean of instruction, and stabbed him in the neck, thinking he had stabbed the governor.
James, a law-enforcement veteran before joining the college, wrestled the knife away and pinned down Brezik. James was wounded slightly in the skirmish.
Dimmitt said he still suffers from vertigo and thinks about the attack every day.
“It has impacted my general sense of well-being,” Dimmitt said. “I think regularly of the experiences of my family.”
James, whose law enforcement training is credited with saving Dimmitt’s life, said the school still was dealing with what happened that day.
“The event traumatized many on our campus,” James said. “It robbed the campus of its innocence that day.”
Pressing for a life sentence, Michael Hunt, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor, described a chilling message from Brezik, delivered in a police interview room just after the attack.
“He wanted an AK-(47 assault rifle) so he could do more damage,” Hunt said. “But all he had was a knife, so he stuck it in Al Dimmitt’s neck.”
Defense lawyer David Suroff scolded Hunt for reading too much into words that Brezik spoke while still delusional.
“His mental health issues are genuine, and they’re being treated,” Suroff said. “An extended prison sentence is not right for Casey Brezik.”
Jailed since the attack, Brezik has made remarkable progress on his mental health issues, doctors and family said.
Judge John Torrence rejected Suroff’s suggestion for a 120-day treatment sentence followed by five years of probation. But the mental health issues factored against a life sentence as well, he said.
“Tragedy doesn’t begin to describe this,” Torrence said. “Our legislature has been penny-wise and pound-foolish on dealing with community resources for people with mental health problems.”