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Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

EXCLUSIVE: A judge in Hackensack today cleared a Union Township man of attempted murder but convicted him of aggravated assault and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend during rough sex in her North Arlington apartment.

Thomas Cieslik was released from the Bergen County Jail this afternoon — 100 pounds lighter than when he was arrested 13 months ago – pending sentencing by Superior Court Judge Donald R. Venezia on Aug. 29.

Cieslik smiled broadly as he was led off from the courtroom by Bergen County Sheriff’s officers after Venezia rendered his verdict following a three-day bench trial.

The judge gave him a stern warning before agreeing to Cieslik’s release, prohibiting him from even returning a phone call or message from the victim.

“If you do anything [to contact her] I will not be a happy camper,” Venezia said, “and you’ll be the recipient of me not being a happy camper.”

That means “no contact through buddies, social media, texting, cell phone, driving by her house,” the judge told Cieslik. “If there’s even a small tiny indicia of contact, I’m probably going to assume you instituted it, and you’ll be in deep problems, understand?

“Only bad things can happen.”

Cieslik said he understood and that he had no interest in speaking with the woman.

Venezia ruled that there was no doubt that Cieslik threatened to kill the victim twice.

“She was in immediate fear of death, under the circumstances,” he said.

Venezia also cited red marks on her neck from a strap that Cieslik pressed against her “severely enough to cause her to almost choke and spit out her tongue” in convicting him of aggravated assault.

“I’m convinced the victim told the truth,” the judge said. “Her throat was on fire. There was redness in the back and neck caused by the actions of the defendant. His purpose was to attempt to purposely or knowingly cause bodily injury to this victim.”

Venezia also acquitted Cieslik of the most serious counts: attempted murder and attempting to cause serious bodily injury.

“I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt [that] his purpose was to cause serious bodily injury,” the judge ruled. “Assault with the belt was to cause bodily injury — not serious bodily injury.

“It’s a heavy-duty charge and I’m not making light of what occurred,” Venezia said, noting that Cieslik never struck the victim, with either an open or closed hand.

However, the evidence “does not meet the standard of an attempted murder charge,” he said.

Cieslik had been held since his May 2012 arrest, even after his bail was reduced to $300,000 from a half-million dollars.

Defense attorney Joseph Depa said his client is a changed man from the strapping 6-foot-4, 285-pound bouncer and wrestler he agreed to represent: He intends to live with his parents, brother and sister in Union, and has a job lined up as a tree surgeon.

A North Arlington patrolman testified that she pulled into the parking lot of police headquarters on May 20, 2012, shouting: “He’s trying to kill me! He’s trying to kill me!”

Patrolman Louis Pinto told Venezia he ran to the car, where he found the woman shoeless, in just a long t-shirt, “crying and shaking.”

He said he took her into headquarters, asked her what happened and took photographs of “many” bite marks and strap marks around her neck.

After the woman was treated at a nearby hospital, Pinto said, he went with her to her apartment and found “evidence that completely corroborated everything she told me.”

Knowing he was wanted, Cieslik turned himself in the next day, North Arlington Police Chief Louis Ghione told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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