A Queens man accused of the shocking stabbing and killing of an FDNY paramedic from Long Island in 2022 has been found mentally competent to stand trial for the killing, court records show.
After being examined by doctors at an upstate psychiatric hospital, Peter Zisopoulos, 35, of Astoria — whose attorney said has a history of schizophrenia — was deemed to be no longer suffering from any mental condition preventing him from understanding the charges against him stemming from the September 2022 slaying of 61-year-old EMT Alison Russo on a street outside his apartment building, court records show.
As a result of the latest psychiatric finding, Queens State Supreme Court Judge Ira H. Margulis signed an order late last month transferring Zisopoulos back to the medical unit at the Rikers Island jail. Zisopoulos has been held without bail since his arrest right after the killing of Russo.
But defense attorney Wilson LaFaurie told Newsday on Monday that the latest finding about Zisopoulos’s mental state doesn’t mean that the case will necessarily go to trial any time soon.
Two previous court-ordered examinations of Zisopoulos found that he was incompetent to go to trial and assist in his defense, noted LaFaurie. Yet, After Zisopoulos was transferred to an upstate psychiatric hospital and apparently treated with drug therapy, he was again evaluated and found mentally able to go to trial, the attorney said, adding that his client has a history of being schizophrenic.
LaFaurie said that once defendants are transferred from a mental hospital back to the New York City correction system, they sometimes revert to their old debilitating mental state requiring another round of court-ordered psychiatric examinations.
“This is so common,” LaFaurie said.
According to police, Zisopoulos was seen on surveillance video and by witnesses stabbing Russo numerous times without provocation at 2:10 p.m. Sept. 29, 2022, in Astoria as the medic was going to get a sandwich. Russo, who was just blocks away from her EMS Station 49, died of multiple stab wounds.
A few days after Russo’s death her friends, family, fellow firefighters and first responders lined up in the rain outside the Commack Abbey funeral home for a wake. Gov. Kathy Hochul attended the evening session of the wake along with other regional officials, including Mayor Eric Adams. In her spare time, Russo had volunteered her services at the Huntington Community First Aid Squad.
Russo was promoted from lieutenant to captain after her death.
Police said that after Zisopoulos stabbed Russo he returned to his apartment just steps away from the crime scene. Police and detectives arrived on the scene shortly afterward and arrested Zisopoulos, who faces second-degree murder and weapon charges.
During an initial court appearance in the case, Zisopoulos appeared to at first not understand that he was being arraigned, but later seemed to indicate he understood.
LaFaurie said that Zisopoulos was a good high school student in Queens and for a while attended Stony Brook University, before later joining the Army. It was while he was in the Army, said LaFaurie, that Zisopoulos began to exhibit signs of schizophrenia which got worse over time.
After the stabbing of Russo, Zisopoulos told detectives that the entire incident was a “cartoon” and that the victim actually was not dead, said LaFaurie.
It is unclear what the next step in the case will be. LaFaurie said he expected the prosecution to turn over discovery documents in the coming weeks. If there were to be a trial, Zisopoulos would likely invoke a defense claiming he suffered from a mental disease at the time of the crime, the so-called "insanity” defense.