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Nicolae Miu acknowledged Tuesday that he lied to police about whether he was carrying a knife when he got into a scuffle with a group of young people tubing down the Apple River — a fight that ended with one teen stabbed to death and four others injured.

Miu, 54, of Prior Lake, took the stand Tuesday in his St. Croix County, Wis., trial on a count of first-degree intentional homicide in the July 2022 stabbing death of 17-year-old Isaac Schuman. He also faces four counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and the possibility of life in prison.

Testifying in his defense, Miu described how he was searching for a friend's lost phone and approached Schuman's group suspecting they had found it. He said the group of young people began calling him names and surrounded him in the shallow water, pushing him and causing him to feel panicked.

Prosecutors and their witnesses have said Miu made a comment about "looking for little girls," which set off the altercation; Miu says he doesn't know why the young people chose to interact with him. Asked to describe his actions in a video that captured the struggle, Miu told a different story than he told police who interviewed him on the day of the stabbings.

"I'm reaching for my pocket knife," Miu said, referring to video which shows him finger his right pocket. "Because at one point my fear was getting really high and I was getting ready to pull it out."

Prosecutors were quick to point out Miu's shifting story, playing video of police interviews that captured Miu telling a different tale: that two young men had pulled out knives, and he'd grabbed one away to protect himself.

"I lied about the knife," Miu acknowledged from the witness stand. But he denied that he spent time coming up with a story: "Everything I told [police] is what I remembered at that time."

Miu recalled his fear as the group confronted him; he said his heartbeat quickened and his breathing shallowed as the group drew closer and called him a "pedophile." Miu and his attorneys have noted that he had earlier survived a heart attack and a quadruple bypass, adding to a feeling of vulnerability.

At the trial, Nicolae Miu’s defense attorney Aaron Nelson watches the police interview after Miu was arrested.
At the trial, Nicolae Miu’s defense attorney Aaron Nelson watches the police interview after Miu was arrested.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

He described pushing one young woman, Madison Coen, away because he felt threatened. Witnesses have said Dante Carlson punched Miu after he struck Coen. Miu testified Tuesday that his vision narrowed before he stood and defended himself, stabbing five people around him because he felt escape was impossible.

"I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. I didn't know who was punching me, touching me, shoving me, nothing," Miu said, claiming that he later tossed the knife into the brush because he was afraid. "I was overwhelmed with fear — residual fear. And I didn't want to have anything to do with it."

Prosecutors questioned Miu about how he could have felt threatened when none of the young people were armed, as he'd claimed, and pointed out that he hadn't left when they yelled for him to get out of the area.

Prosecutor Brian Smestad noted that even though Miu claimed he was in fear for his life, he never called out to his companions for help — and after the fight, he rejoined his wife and friends and continued on down the river.

Police had arrived by the time Miu got out of the river, and Smestad noted that Miu walked by a uniformed officer, with his gun drawn, without saying a word.

"You didn't approach the officer, saying 'They tried to kill me'... you walked right by him," Smestad said.

"That is a blur," Miu responded.

Defense attorney Aaron Nelson countered that Miu did wave for help from his group before the stabbing, and argued that Miu was still afraid afterward.

Nicolae Miu identifies the knife as he takes the stand.
Nicolae Miu identifies the knife as he takes the stand.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Police eventually spotted Miu and arrested him; prosecutors played body camera footage of Miu sitting in the back of a squad car and telling St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson that he had heard a scuffle but wasn't part of it — and wondered if Knudson would share any details about what had occurred.

"Our whole group was pretty interested in finding out what happened," Miu told Knudson during the conversation.

Earlier, while St. Croix County Sheriff's Office Lt. Brandie Hart was on the stand, jurors saw video from Hart's interview with Miu, several hours after the stabbings. Informed during that interview that one person had died and four more were injured, Miu put his head in his hands.

He asked if the injuries had resulted from two groups of young people floating on the river fighting with each other — but also indicated that he knew he was involved.

"My whole life is down the tubes," he said. On Tuesday he testified that he has nightmares about the stabbing every night.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up their cases Tuesday and are expected to begin closing arguments Wednesday.