Derry Township woman convicted of hatchet attack on neighbor after clothesline dispute |
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Rich Cholodofsky

A Derry Township woman was convicted Thursday for assaulting her next-door neighbor with a hatchet.

Denise Nichols, 51, claimed she acted in self-defense after being tackled by her neighbor in the yard behind her home on Nov. 2, 2016.

But police said Nichols was the instigator. She twice slashed her neighbor in the arm after the neighbor cut down a clothesline strung between trees that straddled their Peach Hollow Road properties.

Nichols contended her neighbor ran at her, shoved her to the ground and repeatedly struck her in the head before she rose and swung the hatchet in an effort to fend him off.

“I thought he was going to kill me,” Nichols said.

Police said Nichols ran at her victim holding a staple gun and hatchet.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar in the nonjury trial before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Feliciani argued there was no evidence to support Nichols’ story. Lazar suggested she exaggerated her injuries, which included a black eye and bruised wrists.

“All of this back and forth over whether he punched her first is of no matter,” Lazer said. “She used a deadly weapon.”

The judge said Nichols’ testimony was not credible. He found her guilty of a felony aggravated assault charge and a misdemeanor count of simple assault.

Feliciani sentenced Nichols to serve five years on probation, including six months of house arrest.

She could have been ordered to serve up to 16 months in jail, but the judge said he imposed a mitigated sentence because of her status as a veteran and ongoing medical issues.

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