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Attorney: Cop’s Attacker Had ‘Psychotic Incident’

Special to Newsday
March 3, 2007, 9:55 PM EST

The Queens man charged with attempted murder for trying to stab a rookie police officer with a steak knife was in the midst of a “psychotic incident” and believed he was fending off attackers, his lawyer said Saturday.

Joseph Leonardi, 50, remained under psychiatric observation in Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica, where he was taken after the violent incident Thursday outside St. Helen Roman Catholic Church in Howard Beach, attorney Todd Greenberg said.

He said Leonardi is “absolutely appalled that he may have hurt someone” and the Howard Beach man is “very, very relieved” that Officer Stuart Ingram, 22, was not hurt.

Leonardi told his lawyer that he never spotted a police officer at the scene.

“He believes he was under attack by three thugs,” Greenberg said. “And then he was acting out in self-defense.”

Leonardi went to the church around 5 p.m. Thursday, hoping to meet with the priest who presided over his mother’s funeral, Greenberg said.

Josephine Mary Leonardi, 78, who lived with her husband, Anthony, just two doors down from their son on 90th Street, died on Christmas Day.

The Rev. Richard E. Marchese, pastor of St. Helen’s, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Police said Leonardi first tried to remove a wooden name placard posted in front of the church. When neighbors yelled at him to stop, he got into his 1995 Buick and drove it onto the sidewalk, barely missing a nun standing outside the church.

Leonardi got out of his car and ran off, pursued by one man. When responding officers from the 106th Precinct arrived, he lunged at Ingram with the knife, but the blade struck the officer’s badge and broke into several pieces.

Leonardi, who also is charged with reckless endangerment, was taken to the 106th Precinct and later to the hospital for observation.

Greenberg said he met with his client for two hours at the hospital Saturday. If Leonardi remains there beyond Sunday, an arraignment in the hospital would be arranged, he said.

The lawyer said he plans to raise the issue of Leonardi’s mental capacity.

“I can only say at this point I’m affirming my belief, knowing his background, he was experiencing a break with reality — a psychotic incident,” Greenberg said.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.