A former New York City Transit officer from Lake Grove told police that he hit his wife in the head with a baseball bat, then strangled her, a Suffolk prosecutor said Thursday.

Paul Leitgeb, 49, was ordered held without bail after he pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder at an arraignment in Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he was being treated for self-inflicted injuries.

New York State troopers tracked down Leitgeb and arrested him Tuesday upstate after Suffolk police asked for help in finding him.

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Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said in an interview that Leitgeb admitted to police that he hit his wife, Tricia Odierna, 42, in the head with a baseball bat and then strangled her.

Odierna's body was discovered in their Lake Grove house about 2 p.m. Oct. 1.

"He's got a whole bunch of reasons" for doing it, Kurtzrock said, including financial difficulties.

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Reached by phone, a relative of Tricia Odierna said the family did not wish to comment. A man who identified himself as the victim's brother-in-law said it's too soon to make a statement and declined to comment.

Leitgeb's attorney, Joseph Ferrante of Hauppauge, said in an interview that it was too soon to know much about what happened or what led up to it.

"Our side of the investigation is just beginning today," he said.

Ferrante said his client retired from the police department about seven years ago, shortly after his wife's sister died and the couple adopted her three sons, now 16, 13 and 7. About the same time, Leitgeb and Odierna had twins, and had a daughter who was 14 at the time, and is now 21.

"He's a good man who was taking care of six kids," Ferrante said. "All he's thinking about now is the kids." The family is scrambling to take the children in and to get them grief counseling. "It's trying, to say the least," Ferrante said.

Kurtzrock said Leitgeb bought some camping gear and headed into the woods near upstate Pawling after the killing in the Lake Grove house the couple owned. He was found about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in a wooded area near the Appalachian Trail in Pawling.

After a prolonged standoff with police, Leitgeb was found armed with a box cutter, which police said he used to cut his neck and wrist. "My understanding is that it was fairly substantial," Kurtzrock said of the injuries.

Ferrante said his client is "not in good shape."