An 88-year-old Tucson man who attacked his neighbor with a meat cleaver two years ago was sentenced to five years' probation in Pima County Superior Court Tuesday.

Melvin Slanina pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and could have received up to 8.75 years in prison, but Judge Howard Fell said sending him to prison didn't make sense given Slanina's age and physical condition.

On June 18, 2008, Barbara Wenger, 64, was walking two dogs inside her mobile home park when Slanina, a neighbor, began walking toward her rapidly with a meat cleaver in his hand, according to court documents.

Slanina chased her and slashed at her face and neck with the cleaver while she used her left arm to block the blows, court documents indicate.

Slanina walked back to his mobile home after falling and neighbors assisted Wenger to her home and called 911.

Five of the blows penetrated Wenger's arm to the bone, severing arteries, veins, tendons and nerves and causing a fracture. According to court documents, she's had reconstructive surgery performed and needs additional surgery, but can't afford it.

Wenger and Slanina each claim the other has been harassing them for two years.

During Tuesday's hearing, Wenger told Fell she lost the use of her left hand, was forced to sell her home and has seen her family suffer.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Dan Nicolini told Fell he thought Slanina should spend at least some time in jail as a condition of probation, noting how "completely bizarre, unprovoked and senseless" the attack was.

Slanina's defense attorney Brad Armstrong, said Slanina is remorseful and should be given a chance on probation, but when given his opportunity to speak, Slanina only expressed concern about being able to pay Wenger restitution, saying his monthly expenses already outweigh his monthly income.

The Pima County probation officer who prepared Slanina's presentence report indicated Slanina told her he thought he struck Wenger with a blunt object.

The probation officer reported Slanina "acknowledged having attacked the victim, but lacked empathy for the victim" and since the attack happened when he was 86 "it cannot be assumed that his advanced age renders him incapable of harming another individual."

Doctors who examined Slanina four months after the incident reported Slanina suffers from "paranoid personality disorder with marked delusions of reference, grandiosity and persecution."

The case against Slanina took awhile to resolve because Slanina broke his leg in a crash in February 2009 and a bacterial infection set in. Doctors were forced to amputate the leg earlier this year. He also suffers from a variety of other ailments.

Fell ordered Slanina to pay Wenger a small portion of the $77,000 in restitution she requested, but future hearings on the matter are expected.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or