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An Oakdale man who bashed his wife in the head with a sledgehammer while she slept will spend several years in prison for attempted murder.

Brian Thomas Henjum, 32, apologized Friday for his “terrible and horrific act,” striking his wife repeatedly early on the morning of Oct. 2, 2014.

Their daughter, then 3, was asleep in their bedroom and witnessed the attack on her mother, who awoke and ran screaming from the house as Henjum swung at her.

“I knew Brian was killing me, and I feared the kids already were dead or would be next,” Megan Zeilinger tearfully told Judge Gary Schurrer in Washington County District Court. “I absolutely fought for my life.”

Rejecting a defense plea for leniency, Schurrer sentenced Henjum to about 11 years in prison on a charge of second-degree attempted murder, with intent and with a dangerous weapon.

With good behavior, Henjum will serve about seven years behind bars and the rest on supervised release.

Defense attorney Richard Koch argued that Henjum suffered from an underlying pattern of depression that affected his judgment and that he had intended to kill himself with the 4-pound sledgehammer.

“I was a coward and hit her instead,” Henjum said Friday before he was sentenced.

But prosecutor Siv Yurichuk asked how Henjum would accomplish suicide by hammer. She said he was trying to cast himself as the victim rather than taking responsibility for the attack. “He knew the nature of his acts, and he knew they were wrong,” she said.

A criminal complaint said that Henjum struck his wife in the forehead and behind the right ear. She ran from the house, streaming blood and screaming for help, and then against neighbors’ pleas ran back inside to protect her three children.

None of the children was physically harmed, although family members told the court Friday that they’re in therapy, have nightmares that they will be attacked, and live in constant fear that their father will find and hurt them.

A forensic psychologist, Dr. James Alsdurf, testified that Henjum had symptoms of “a major obsessive disorder” that centered on feelings of anger toward his wife.

“He is a very self-pitying person, and I think his depression is linked to that,” he said.

Henjum’s brother, Erik, noted episodes of attempted suicide. He said his brother had shown “significant remorse” and been a model inmate in the Washington County jail.

However, Zeilinger and other members of her family characterized Brian Henjum as a sociopath who couldn’t hold a job and lied about his work, money, love for his family and attendance at counseling sessions.

She said his “bizarre behavior” throughout much of their now-broken marriage convinced her that he was intent on killing her.

“I’m sure he regrets every single day not hitting me harder with the first blow,” she said.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037