Benjamin Lopez outside Nassau Police Headquarters in Mineola in 2017.

Benjamin Lopez outside Nassau Police Headquarters in Mineola in 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Levittown grandmother’s life came to a terrifying end in her bedroom after Benjamin Lopez attacked with a machete when she got “in the way” of his plan to carry out revenge against her grandson, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Lopez, 27, is standing trial in Nassau County Court on charges including first-degree murder, robbery, assault and burglary after the 2017 slaying of 73-year-old Laraine Pizzichemi in her North Newbridge Road home.

A lawyer for Lopez didn’t deny Tuesday that his client was present on the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2017, at what he called “a truly horrific scene.”

But attorney Paul Townsend said in his opening statement that Lopez’s “brain is broken.”

He began building a case for what the defense hopes will be a verdict in Lopez’s favor of not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.

Lopez was looking to pay back Pizzichemi’s grandson, Mark Depperman, for “ratting him out” to police after they arrested the grandson for drugs, prosecutor Stefanie Palma also said in her opening statement.

The prosecutor said Lopez wanted to rob Depperman of drugs and money.

Palma also told jurors Lopez slashed the 95-pound, cancer-stricken grandmother “over and over” until she “could not fight anymore,” after Lopez broke into the family’s home with co-conspirator Deangelo Gill that afternoon.

“This defendant and his friend set into a motion a targeted attack against Laraine Pizzichemi’s grandson … She was simply in the way. So this defendant killed her,” Palma said.

Gill, 23, of Uniondale, is serving 17 years to life in prison after pleading guilty in 2019 to second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

Gill’s attorney told Newsday at the time of his plea that Lopez orchestrated the crime and his client had accepted responsibility for his part in the violence.

But Lopez’s attorney said Tuesday that Gill leveraged his friendship with Lopez to manipulate him.

Lopez had childhood onset schizophrenia and has suffered from severe mental illness for a significant portion of his life, with diagnoses that also included schizoaffective disorder, according to Townsend.

The defense attorney said his client was repeatedly hospitalized for psychiatric care as a teenager, but had no psychiatric counseling or medication from 2010 until the day of the deadly encounter.

“You are going to hear how a combination of anxiety, paranoia, fear of rejection, psychosis left untreated led to Benjamin Lopez being unable to understand that what he was doing was wrong,” Townsend said.

Palma told jurors Depperman, then 24, returned home while Lopez and Gill were still inside the residence, before Lopez slashed Depperman repeatedly with the machete and demanded that he open his safe.

She said Depperman’s sister, then 21, also came home and saw “blood everywhere.”

Lopez soon pulled out a handgun and again demanded that Depperman open his safe, before Depperman complied and Lopez and Gill stole items that included cash and marijuana and stuffed it in a backpack, according to Palma.

She said Depperman tried to call 911 from the home’s phone before he was stopped, but the hang-up triggered a police response.

Lopez told Depperman’s sister before leaving that he would return and kill the entire family if she told anyone what had happened, according to the prosecutor.

Palma said Lopez and Gill fled out the home’s rear when they saw a police officer outside who had responded to the 911 hang-up.

Depperman then called 911 as soon as the duo left and reported that Lopez, who lived nearby, had stabbed him, the prosecutor told jurors.

She said police recovered the machete at the crime scene and soon found Lopez and Gill at Lopez’s Blackbird Lane home as they got into a Honda Civic with Lopez’s mother.

Police recovered the machete’s sheath in Lopez’s waistband, with testing later revealing the object had Pizzichemi’s DNA on it, according to the prosecutor.

After getting search warrants for the Honda and Lopez’s home, authorities recovered a knife Gill used in the attack on Depperman, the gun used in the encounter, Pizzichemi’s pocketbook and Lopez’s bloody clothes with her DNA on them, Palma said Tuesday.

Pizzichemi’s family declined to comment during a break in court proceedings.

Testimony is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

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