Defense attorney says society failed 'drug addict' who stabbed girlfriend at MGM Detroit

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A St. Clair Shores man was sentenced for his involvement in his girlfriend's death at the MGM Grand Casino last spring. 

Tia Vellucci was found dead on the floor of a hotel room in May of 2018. According to the Wayne County Prosecutor, she was stabbed multiple times and had been bitten on her nose.

As part of a plea agreement her boyfriend Daniel Michalak pled no contest (nolo contendere) to two charges: assault with intent to murder, and assault with intent to maim. No contest is not a guilty plea but a defendant accepts the conviction without admitting guilt. As part of the plea, he received 12-20 years for the first charge, and 5-10 years for the second charge to be served consecutively, while a third count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder was dismissed.

Several people in the courtroom Wednesday wore white t-shirts with a picture of Tia. Judge Regina Thomas commented on how strong of a support system she can see the family has, and encouraged the family and the community's unity to continue and grow stronger after the sentencing.

Several of Tia's family members spoke, some sharing fond memories of Tia and others voicing concern over Michalak's sentencing agreement. Her father brought up a letter from the court which went over the sentencing agreement and mentioned Michalak had said he was remorseful. 

"Remorseful? Your honor, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 times," he said, pounding his fist on the court bench in re-enactment. "He stabbed her in the neck. Slashed her ... and then there's contusions on her arms. Not once, eight times. One of the stabs went into her vertebrates, between her vertebrates. What kind of life would she life after that - if she even lived after that? ... He deserves every year you give him."

"The wheels of justice turn slow. Too slow. And I believe that Wayne County's justice system is broken. It is broken. And I will have my justice with this man here, whether it comes when he's in prison, or I make myself live as old as I can and the minute his feet touch the ground, it's over," Tia's grandfather said. 

Judge Thomas then took the time to confirm the family had understood and agreed to the plea and sentencing agreements with the prosecutor, which they had. But Tia's sister added they'll "never be happy with what happened today."

Michalak's defense attorney also spoke and said society had failed him.

"We are here today because we as a society were structurally prevented from - and we as individuals - failed yet again to love and care for each other. We are each other's keepers and we failed Tia and we failed Daniel. We left them to flounder in a sea of dispair that ended with all of us gathered here today in this room, all wanting the same thing, the one thing that we cannot have. Which is Tia," she said. "Daniel is not a monster, he is a drug addict. Addiction is not a choice; it is a disorder."

"Spring is upon us, the time of year we contemplate death and rebirth and redemption," she continued, with a crack in her voice. "It is hoped that the healing process for all affected by this tragedy can begin in earnest today. There is hope that the process can include forgiveness for all for what was done and what was not done, and resolve to go forward and do better."

The prosecutor responded and said her comments were "utterly inappropriate" to speak about Tia and about "who failed her, or who didn't, or blame her in any way for what he did."

"That is completely inappropriate and there is no evidence on this record for any of that," the prosecution said. 

Judge Thomas said all the evidence showed that this was a "heinous act" and sentenced Michalak in accordance with the agreement.  

Michalak also spoke at the sentencing as well and apologized to both Tia's family and his family. 

"I cannot begin to explain what happened that awful day and will live with the grief for the rest of my life," he said. "I battled many demons during our 9-year relationship but I never swayed us from the love that we shared. I loved Tia with my entire heart and I wish there was some way to take all of this back."

Tia's family has set up a memorial fund with a portion of the contributions going to support a domestic violence nonprofit.