Wife pleads not guilty in Fort Salonga stabbing death

Kathleen Prisco has been charged with second-degree murder

Kathleen Prisco has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of her husband, Ralph Prisco, in Fort Salonga. (Oct. 31, 2009) (Credit: SCPD)

A Fort Salonga mother described by neighbors as mild-mannered was on suicide watch in the Riverhead jail Saturday after being charged in a fatal knife attack on her husband that officials say has no clear motive.

Kathleen Prisco was led in handcuffs, crying and distraught, into a Central Islip courtroom Saturday. Through her attorney, she pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her husband, attorney Ralph Prisco, 54.

Prisco, 48, dressed in a blue-and-white jogging outfit, did not speak aloud as District Court Judge John Iliou agreed with her attorney's request to place her on suicide watch. Attorney John Cucci Jr., who represented Prisco Saturday, also asked for a psychological exam but agreed to wait after Iliou said the exam might make her unavailable for a bail hearing scheduled for Monday.

Prisco's personal attorney, Mark Kleczka of Northport, also attended the hearing and described himself as a close family friend. He called Prisco "a private person."

"I've known her for years, I know the kids. It's devastating," he said. "It's a family tragedy."

When asked if there was trouble in the couple's relationship, he said further information would "come out in court." Cucci declined to comment outside court.

The Priscos' next-door neighbor, Sylvia Dietlan, said Kathleen "was mild." Another neighbor, Irene Witthoft, said, "She was happy to be a stay-at-home mom."

The Priscos' 22-year-old son made a frantic 911 call Friday morning from the family's sprawling home on Bob O Link Lane, a stretch of road lined with affluent properties, police said.

Officers discovered Ralph Prisco bleeding from multiple stab wounds in the two-story home's front foyer. Kathleen Prisco was upstairs and quickly placed in custody.

Kathleen Prisco stabbed him "more than a dozen times about the body," with the attack beginning in the upstairs master bedroom, said Assistant District Attorney James Chalifoux. A kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon was found near his collapsed body.

Police said there was no history of domestic disturbances at the home and interviews with the children did little to reveal what may have triggered the attack.

"The investigation is still ongoing as to the history of these two people," Chalifoux said.

Chief Michael Sharkey of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department said Prisco would be segregated at the Riverhead jail and in "direct sight" of correction officers while the suicide watch order is in place.

The couple's older son, the only other person in the house, told police he heard a struggle and his father scream for help and called 911 about 8:30 a.m. Friday, police said. Ralph Prisco was rushed by helicopter to Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 9:31 a.m.

Kathleen Prisco later told police she had ingested sleeping pills; she was taken to a hospital Friday where she was cleared to return to a police facility. Kleczka said a bandage on Prisco's left hand was from a previous injury.

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