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July 20, 2019

abigail bostwick/lakeland times

Joseph Buza confers with public defender Attorney Steven Richards in Oneida County Circuit Court Wednesday, June 12, 2019.
abigail bostwick/lakeland times

Joseph Buza confers with public defender Attorney Steven Richards in Oneida County Circuit Court Wednesday, June 12, 2019.
6/15/2019 7:30:00 AM
Buza sentenced to prison in false imprisonment case
Victim: 'If we had not prevented it, we'd be here for a murder trial'
Abigail Bostwick
Of The Lakeland Times

A 71-year-old Eagle River man was sentenced to prison Wednesday in Oneida County Circuit Court, one year after he held a Minocqua nurse practitioner hostage under the threat of torture and pain.

Joseph Buza, represented by public defender Attorney Steven Richards, was before Judge Michael Bloom following his plea of no contest to false imprisonment and attempted aggravated battery/intending great bodily harm, both felonies, earlier this year. Dismissed were misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon.

A pre-sentence investigation was completed in advance of Wednesday's, which drew numerous people - including the victim, who did not speak - and filled the courtroom benches.

Buza, along with wife, Jillian Buza, 39, who is now deceased, went to Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center armed with a loaded revolver, extra ammunition, duct tape, a hatchet and 1.5 pound meat tenderizer along with two rubber store stops with the plan to trap and threaten their pain management provider who was easing Jillian off opioids, according to court records.

Once there, Buza is said to have held a weapon to the nurse practitioner after the door was barricaded with duct tape, threatening to chop off her hands and feet so she'd "understand the pain" the couple was going through, court reports say. It was stated the Buzas' goal was to inflict pain upon their health care provider before Buza would shoot his wife and then himself.

However, staff forced the door open and were able to come to the aid of the nurse practitioner and restrain the Buzas before law enforcement arrived. It was said in court at least 10 victims had written statements to Judge Bloom for consideration in determining an appropriate sentence.

The outreach of pain and impact, however, relayed by some of the victims in court, were far beyond what any sentence could be.

"He violated me and left me vulnerable," said June Vogel, who works at the clinic. The nurse practitioner victim did not return to work, it was indicated. The experience left Vogel with fear, anger, an inability to sleep, anxiety, withdrawal and the feeling she is no longer safe. "He has not broken my spirit," she added.

The impact to the work team as well as clinic also is apparent, Vogel added.

"There is distrust from patients, financial loss. None of us should have had to have experienced this," she observed. "No amount of jail time can make up for what he caused."

Renee Rutta, a Marshfield Clinic employee for 14 years, addressed the court to say the crime had been most detrimental to the staff, community and patients.

"Lost is our collective innocence," she said through tears. "The defendant came to hurt ... he came to kill. If we had not prevented it, we'd be here for a murder trial."

With the clinic for more than 20 years, Dawn Flann noted she and the staff are frequently reliving the fear, terror, despair and sadness brought on ever since June 12, 2018 when the Buzas arrived at the clinic.

It was Flann who broke down the door and found Buza holding a blade against the stomach of her coworker. Her first thought, she said, was, "My friend is going to die."

"I looked at Buza and I saw murder in his eyes," she recalled. "The Buzas forever changed my life and others. I saw a department divide, and fall apart. I feel unsafe at my place of employment."

The fear follows Flann home and influences her family, who also now worry over her safety when she goes into work with patients, she added.

"No one should have to worry if their loved one will return from work," Flann said. "This event was premeditated ... they wanted to inflict pain on the individuals trying to help them ...never have I encountered a plan so horrific."

The final witness and victim to speak at the hearing was Mary Ann Ibarra.

"A year ago, Jill and Joe Buza came to the clinic, we are still dealing with the fallout," she said. "We've lost providers. Patients. The toll it took on use emotionally, physically ... the fallout goes to our families."

Prosecutor Michael Schiek told Bloom there was "... no way to get around the gravity of this."

"It certainly would have been much worse if not for the proactive actions of these employees," Schiek observed.

I was out of my mind'

In the pre-sentence investigation, it was noted that Buza purchased a gun with the intent of committing particular crime either weeks or months before. His account varies in interviews. He told his lawyer and investigators he'd watched his wife steadily decline over two years due to a lack of opioid prescriptions, turning her into a "raging lunatic," he said.

"This was a situation where both he and Jill thought about what they'd do, how they'd do it, down to the doorstops to prevent people from helping," Schiek said. "He wanted to harm her, and make her feel as they did, when she was only trying to help ... it's as bad as it could have been."

Schiek recommended the maximum sentence of six years in prison (three confined, three extended supervision) on the first count and 7.5 years prison on the second count (five years confinement and 7.5 years extended supervision).

From the defense perspective, Richards said the event was tragic on many levels, its impact long-reaching.

"Mr. Buza and his wife became victims in and of themselves in the opioid crisis," he said. "The crimes that unfold in this situation are rampant."

Jillian, after 20 years on opioids, was being "weaned off with no other alternatives," Richards said.

"Jill's sentence started two years ago," he explained. "The pain she was going through ... led to this crazy, ludicrous scheme."

Buza's intent was to hurt the nurse practitioner, but most of all himself and Jill by using the loaded gun to kill Jill and then himself in front of the provider that June day one year ago, Richards acknowledged.

"When it came down to it, he couldn't do it ... he didn't want to go about it this way, but eventually went along with the program," Richards said of the pre-meditation accusations. "There was no alternative."

On opioids, the Buzas "were not hurting anybody" nor seeking illegal street drugs and had never had run-ins with law enforcement, Richards told Bloom.

Buza has cancer and was resigned to his fate, Richards concluded. "Obviously, punishment is due. You just can't have this happening."

Buza also spoke to the court.

"Your honor, it was just a foolish old man," he said. "My wife turned from normal to a raving lunatic ... I had no intention of shooting anyone there but myself and my wife. I was out of my mind, it was just craziness."

Upon consideration, Bloom noted what he saw was a defendant and his wife orchestrating a plan to confine (the victim) in a small room and terrorize her as a prelude to killing themselves in front of her.

"Further he had a hatchet, meat tenderizer, loaded firearm, ammunition, duct tape, two wedges ... the intent of this plan was to cause pain," Bloom said. "(They planned to chop off) her hands and feet ... motivated by ... a nurse not continuing to prescribe opioid drugs to their satisfaction. That's as grave as it gets."

The Buzas' actions were violent, aggressive, selfish and terroristic, the judge said.

"It's a horrible thing when a human being perceives their life to be pointless, to consider suicide," Bloom said. "But it's a different thing entirely when someone feels the need to take someone along with them ... the defendant terrorized this Marshfield Clinic member and the clinic, the pain management program, Marshfield Clinic as a whole and the entire community. The defendant intended no harm? That's outrageous to say."

Buza and his wife dragged "... all of these people into their world of self-created misery," Bloom added. "(The Marshfield Clinic employees) were only in the line of fire for going into the health care field likely out of the desire to help fellow human beings ... it is extreme, aggravated and outrageous and demands a clear response (from the court)."

Bloom issued the maximum sentence recommended by prosecution, consecutive to one another, noting that when Buza is released to extended supervision, he may not go within 100 yards of the 10 people who wrote victim statements nor enter a Marshfield Clinic anywhere.

Court costs and restitution are still open. Buza received credit for 366 days served.

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