MAYS LANDING — The attorney for the homeless woman accused of killing two Atlantic City tourists in May moved Wednesday to have an expert evaluate her mental state in preparation for a possible insanity defense.
Antoinette Pelzer, 44, appeared far different than she did during her first court appearance in May, when she made faces, stared at the media and, at times, laughed. On Wednesday, with her once-disheveled hair in braids and her expression serious and unchanging, Pelzer stood quietly next to public defender Holly Bitters as the request was made to hire an expert for the mental evaluation.
Pelzer, who is from Philadelphia, is accused of attacking Alice Mei See Leung, 47, with a knife as the woman and her mother walked down Pacific Avenue on May 21. When Po Lin Wan, 80, came to her daughter’s aid, she was attacked as well.
Patrol Officer Jacob Abbruscato was able to disarm Pelzer in 13 seconds, according to previous information released about the case. The women, who were from Ontario, Canada, were rushed to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s City Campus about a half-block away from where the attack occurred. Both died at the hospital.
Pelzer was taken to the Ann Klein Forensic Center in West Trenton for treatment, but is now at the Atlantic County Justice Facility on $1.5 million bail.
“She’s better than she was,” Bitters said outside the courtroom Wednesday. “It looks like she has been diagnosed with schizophrenia before.”
As for an insanity defense: “We’re definitely going to explore that option,” Bitters said.
To be found not guilty by reason of insanity, it has to be proved that — at the time of the crime — Pelzer did not know what she was doing was wrong.
The defense’s expert will test Pelzer to see whether she meets the criteria of the M’Naghten Rule, named for Daniel M’Naghten, who was acquitted after being deemed insane in the 1843 assassination attempt on England’s then-prime minister. M’Naghten instead shot the secretary.
Depending upon the expert’s findings, the state will determine whether to hire its own witness, Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy told Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson.
That would likely happen if the defense witness finds that Pelzer meets the criteria. Those reports go to the prosecution, which then can have its own expert look them over, including video of the testing.
Levy told the judge the parties are ready for trial, except for the expert evaluation.
“I want to move this as quickly as possible through the system,” Sandson said.
Several family members met privately with Bitters after the brief hearing, but they declined to speak with reporters.
“I’ve spoken too much,” said one woman, who did not give her name. “Reporters are calling my house.”
Pelzer is due back in court Feb. 4.
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