Peter Zisopoulos, the Astoria man accused of fatally stabbing to death FDNY paramedic Alison Russo, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a murder charge and was ordered held for a psychiatric examination after his defense attorney said he believed the accused man didn’t understand the nature of the indictment against him.
Zisopoulos, 34, who appeared in a Queens State Supreme Court for arraignment on the indictment via a video link from a hospital where is being kept for psychiatric examination, listened to the audio through a telephone and for a moment caused a stir when he said he didn’t consent to the plea proceeding being done virtually.
But after defense attorney Wilson Lafaurie reminded Zisopoulos that they had discussed the court proceeding earlier, the defendant appeared to relent and allowed the arraignment to continue. When asked by Judge Usher Pandit-Durant how Zisopoulos pled to the second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon indictment, Lafaurie replied “not guilty.”
Zisopoulos otherwise remained silent through the proceeding. He held a telephone receiver to his left ear, sometimes cupping his right hand over his other ear, and appeared to stare into a TV monitor in front of him.
The two-count indictment accused Zisopoulos of killing 61 year-old Russo on Sept. 29 with a knife after knocking her to the ground.
Video surveillance camera images and witness statements to police depicted Zisopoulos stabbing Russo over a dozen times as she was walking on 20th Avenue during a break to get a sandwich. Zisopoulos then fled about 70 feet to a side door on the building where he had a third-floor apartment, barricading himself until cops took him into custody, police said.
During the brief court proceeding, Queens Senior Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Selkowe disclosed that Zisopoulos made statements to police when he was arrested shortly after the incident but didn’t disclose the nature of what was said. Zisopoulos faces a prison term of 25 years to life if convicted.
LaFaurie said in court that Zisopoulos had a psychiatric history dating back to 2018, and Pandit-Durant ordered a psychiatric exam after the defense attorney said his client didn’t appear to understand the nature of the charges.
The case is next due in court on Nov. 29.
Under criminal procedures, Zisopoulos will next be examined by a psychiatrist who will make a report to the court about the defendant’s competency to stand trial. The court will then hold a hearing and make a final determination. If Zisopoulos was found not competent he would, under state procedure, be sent to a hospital to see if treatment improves his condition, according to guidelines.
In a statement announcing the indictment, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz called the killing a “tragic case and a devastating loss for the family as well as our city.”
The funeral for Russo, a 25-year veteran FDNY EMT and volunteer for the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, took place on Long Island on Wednesday.
The FDNY posthumously promoted Russo, to the rank of captain at her funeral service.