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A Morrisville teenager who broke into a tomb and used a hacksaw to cut the head off of a corpse was sentenced Wednesday afternoon to 1 to 7 years in prison.

Nickolas Buckalew, 18, pleaded guilty in Caledonia District Court to a felony charge of intentionally removing or injuring a tombstone and a felony charge of intentionally disinterring and carrying away the remains of a human body.

The Lamoille County case was transferred to the Caledonia courthouse in St. Johnsbury after a waterline failure left the Hyde Park courthouse without water.

On April 8, 2005, Buckalew went to a cemetery on the Washington highway in Morrisville and broke into an above-ground tomb, opened the lid of a casket and cut off the head of a corpse. He wrapped the head in plastic bags and took it home. He also stole eyeglasses and a bow tie from the corpse.

Buckalew told witnesses he intended to leave the severed head out and would then bleach it, according to the affidavit of Senior Patrolman Ryan Bjerke of the Morristown Police Department. He told witnesses he intended to turn the skull into a bong, which is a type of pipe used to smoke marijuana or other drugs.

After removing the head from the corpse, Buckalew went to an apartment house where he told residents of an apartment what he had done and that he had done the crimes because he was bored, according to police, who did not identify the witnesses because they are juveniles.

Buckalew was described by witnesses as "Gothic," wearing all black clothing with spiked hair.

Witnesses went to the tomb to see if Buckalew did as he claimed and they looked through holes in the tomb and saw that the lid had been removed from a casket and there was a headless body in the casket.

On April 9 at 2:45 p.m., Morristown police executed a search warrant at Buckalew's residence located at 1591 Elmore St. in Morrisville. They found a human head wrapped in bags, a necktie, a hacksaw, crowbar, garden trowel and two small parts of the damaged casket.

During Wednesday afternoon's sentencing hearing, Judge Dennis Pearson upheld the plea agreement between the state and the defendant and sentenced Buckalew to a total of 1 to 7 years to serve in prison. Buckalew was given credit for the 14 months he's served in prison awaiting trial. He will be sent to Spring Lake Ranch in Cuttingsville, Vt., a therapeutic community residential treatment program, where he will obtain intensive counseling for mental health issues. He will remain there for an indeterminate period under a conditional community reentry program. He will be in the custody of the Department of Corrections for up to seven years under the conditional reentry program.

Dr. Philip Kinsler, a clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at the Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., testified that Buckalew suffered from a bipolar disorder that was described as "biologically based mental illness." He testified learning from Buckalew that "he has always felt extraordinarily out of place" and that Buckalew told him that in the fourth grade he attempted to hang himself.

The witness told the court Buckalew also engaged in self-mutilation behavior.

Dr. Kinsler told the court "the defendant can be rehabilitated" and that he supported the plan to place Buckalew at the Spring Lake Ranch for treatment.

Buckalew, with a short haircut and wearing black framed glasses, was dressed in a light brown suit. He was quiet and expressionless throughout the hearing. At the end of the hearing, he addressed the court saying, "It was a horrendous thing that I did -- what I did was appalling." He told the court, "I didn't think of the victim." Buckalew told the court: "I want to get help for my mental problems."
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