Psych exam set for NYC man charged with killing EMS officer

This undated photo provided by the Fire Department of New York shows FDNY EMS Lt. Alison Russo-Elling. Russo-Elling was fatally stabbed in an apparently random attack, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in the Queens borough of New York. (Courtesy of FDNY via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ordered a psychiatric examination Thursday for a man charged with fatally stabbing an emergency services officer, and the man's lawyer said his client has had mental health problems for four years.

Arraigned by video from Bellevue Hospital, Peter Zisopoulos initially said he didn't consent to the remote proceeding, but he then agreed to it. Through his attorney, he pleaded not guilty to murder.

Zisopoulos, 34, is charged killing Lt. Alison Russo-Elling, who was abruptly attacked last week near the Queens fire station where she worked. The 61-year-old EMS officer, who was posthumously promoted to captain, was months away from retiring.

Russo-Elling had responded to thousands of emergency calls, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, during her 25 years with the Fire Department of New York. At her funeral Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams hailed her as a hero.

Authorities haven't disclosed a motive for the unprovoked midafternoon attack, which happened as Russo-Elling was headed to a corner store for something to eat.

There's no indication that she knew Zispoulos, who fled to his apartment and was arrested after locking himself inside for a time, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said.

“This is a tragic case and a devastating loss for the family as well as our city,” Katz said in a statement.

Zispoulos' lawyer, Wilson LaFaurie, said he believes his client doesn’t understand the charges against him. Zispoulos “has a past psychiatric history going back to 2018,” LaFaurie told the court.

Zispoulos followed the proceedings via video and phone. When Judge Ushir Pandit-Durant asked whether he consented to being arraigned without being in the courtroom, Zispoulos said no.

LaFaurie then asked questions to ensure that his client could hear, knew the attorney's role and recalled that they had discussed a not guilty plea. “Is that what you want to do?” he asked.

“Yes,” Zispoulos said.