Competency hearing reveals new information about motive and mindset of alleged Dutchess County killer
Paul Senecal, 38, had three psychiatric evaluations since the May death of 29-year-old Melanie Chianese.
Two of them deemed him unfit after his ex-girlfriend’s daughter was found stabbed to death at her home in Wappingers Falls.
All three evaluators took the stand to testify Tuesday during his competency hearing in Dutchess County Court.
The two psychologists who found Senecal unfit to stand trial, Dr. Zoey Berko and Dr. Martha Agresta, said in court that they could no longer stand by their determinations after hearing a recorded jailhouse phone call between Senecal and his sister, in which the murder suspect allegedly talked about his case and insanity defense in detail.
A third psychologist and expert witness, Dr. Lawrence Siegal, found Senecal fit to stand trial and said under oath that the defendant knew what he was doing at the time of the murder and is capable of understanding the charges against him.
Siegal said Senecal was on house arrest and lied about the reason for needing to leave his home when he allegedly killed Chianese.
He said Senecal told authorities that he left his wallet at the grocery store when he instead went to the victim's home.
The psychologist said Senecal cut off his ankle monitor and took an Uber to McDonald’s after murdering the victim and told the driver the blood on his hands was his own from a bicycle accident in the woods.
Chianese’s family and friends were in court and spoke to News 12.
“I believe he’s more than competent to stand trial,” said Melanie Chianese’s aunt, Kaitlin Balioni. “This is just his personality. This is who he is.”
Testimony also revealed that Senecal previously lived with the victim and her mother, Cheryl Chianese, but became upset when the victim’s mother broke off their engagement and asked him to move out.
Berko said Senecal asked about the date of the funeral to send a sympathy card, and prosecutors said he used the jail’s computer to email the victim’s mother during one of his virtual evaluations.
She said he’s also broken court orders prohibiting him from contacting Cheryl Chianese by sending letters to her house and job under fake names and through other inmates.
All three psychologists said Senecal has a record of mental illness, suicide attempts and diagnosed him with depression and anxiety - but as of now, whether he’s fit to stand trial remains to be seen.
The hearing concluded with Berko and Agresta saying they need more time to review the case to decide the defendant’s competency to stand trial.
The Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office says the evaluators have until Nov. 11 to re-evaluate Senecal and submit any amended findings.
Senecal’s competency hearing is now expected to resume Nov. 14.