As she tried fighting off the man who fatally stabbed her, Nancy McKinley grabbed at the knife as it repeatedly came down, and at least once managed to get her fingers around the blade, a Suffolk prosecutor said Wednesday.

"These were some of the worst defensive wounds I've ever seen," chief homicide prosecutor Janet Albertson said outside court after the accused attacker, Robert Schiavo, 20, was arraigned on upgraded charges of first-degree murder in Riverhead. Prosecutors said the change was made because Schiavo is accused of an intentional murder during a burglary.

The slices across McKinley's fingers, Albertson added, were "very, very deep."

Schiavo was initially charged with second-degree murder after police said he panicked while robbing the home where McKinley, 61, of Washington, D.C., was on March 8.

McKinley, who grew up in Bellport, was visiting a friend and planned to renovate the home she had inherited from her parents, police have said. A retired librarian, McKinley was the wife of Brunson McKinley, a longtime State Department official.

Brunson McKinley and other family members declined to comment outside court but released a written statement thanking law enforcement and emergency personnel for their efforts to save the victim and arrest her attacker.

"We have great confidence in the people of Suffolk County and are certain that justice will be served," the statement said.

Early on the morning of the attack, Schiavo entered the home on Leisurely Lane, and was stealing money and checks when he saw a light go out in a bedroom, Albertson said.

She said Schiavo grabbed a kitchen knife, went into the bedroom, poked at the victim and when she screamed, attacked her, finally killing her with and 8-inch wound to the abdomen, Albertson said.

Investigators found the suspect's palm print on a jar of coins inside the home, as well as drops of Schiavo's blood on the floor, Albertson said in court. She said Schiavo had confessed orally and in writing.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle ordered Schiavo held without bail. Schiavo was in court, handcuffed and hanging his head throughout the proceeding. His lawyer, Steven Wilutis of Miller Place, said his client had no prior criminal record, and, though he was sorry for the McKinley family's loss, Schiavo had nothing to do with her death.

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