Judge Admits He Attacked Wife Long Island Judge Under Indictment Is Determined Not Responsible For Stabbing

Long Island Judge Under Indictment Is Determined Not Responsible For Stabbing:
By Chau Lam NEWSDAY STAFF WRITER

On the morning his wife was stabbed, Judge Paul Kowtna opened the door of his New Hyde Park home, invited police in and told them he had plunged a knife into her back, according to a statement he gave to police.

"I stabbed her twice in the back," Kowtna said in the statement, which was obtained by Newsday. "I don't want to go to prison for life. I'm not crazy, but I'm insane."

The Nassau County Court judge was formally charged Friday with two counts of first degree assault and two counts of second degree assault. Kowtna, 51, was arraigned at Nassau County Medical Center in East Meadow, where he underwent an initial psychiatric evaluation after being arrested Thursday in the stabbing of his wife, Mary Gail Kowtna, with a kitchen knife.

Mary Kowtna, 45, who was stabbed twice in the left side of her upper back, suffered a collapsed lung. She was in stable condition Friday at the Hospital in Manhasset and declined to comment.

According to Kowtna's defense attorneys, Thomas Hession and William Petrillo, both of Mineola, in Mary Kowtna's statement to police she said her husband did not intentionally stab her and that she did not want to press charges.

During Friday's brief arraignment at his hospital bed, one of Kowtna's lawyers asked District Court Judge Adam Moser to have Kowtna undergo a psychiatric examination to determine his mental fitness before the case proceeds. Kowtna, who was clad in a light blue hospital gown, said he didn't want such an exam, according to a copy of a court transcript. "No, I am not requesting a 730.30 exam," Kowtna said, referring to a section of the penal code. "I am competent to proceed."

Hession entered a not guilty plea on Kowtna's behalf. Moser, who remanded Kowtna without setting bail and ordered that Kowtna be examined and put on a suicide watch, set the next court date for June 21. Moser also issued an order of protection, telling Kowtna not to call or in any way try to contact his wife. A special prosecutor, Scott Kessler, from the Queens district attorney's office, has been appointed to prosecute the case.

Police said they took him to the hospital, instead of the jail, because Kowtna behaved in an "irrational" manner after he let officers into his home Thursday.

In a conference room not far from Kowtna's hospital bed, Ira Wexner, the supervising judge for Nassau County, held a news conference Friday to brief the media, which were barred from the arraignment. Hospital officials made the decision to keep reporters out of what was a public event, saying they're obligated to protect patient confidentiality.

Wexner, who said Kowtna has been placed on a paid administrative leave, appeared distressed. "It's a tragic situation. It's something you couldn't imagine could happen," said Wexner, who was at the arraignment. "I don't know if despondent is the word. I think it would describe his demeanor."

Kowtna and his wife argued Thursday morning as they were getting ready to drive to Binghamton to pick up their eldest daughter, who's attending college there, police said. It became heated, and then Kowtna stabbed his wife twice in the back and then called 911, police said. The couple's 16-year-old daughter, who is learning disabled, had already left for school, Kowtna's attorneys said.

It's still not clear what led to the incident, but Kowtna was described by those who work with him as having experienced great pressure lately. Kowtna told a colleague recently that his heart was broken over his daughter's disability. "He has been under enormous stress, and his only concern right now is for the well being of his wife and his family," said Petrillo.

Around the courthouse on Friday, many in the legal community remained stunned. However, numerous lawyers criticized him during interviews for a Newsday series last year on Long Island's judicial system. The vast majority of lawyers interviewed described him as an uncompromising jurist who was often belittling to lawyers and defendants and was obsessed with concluding cases swiftly. Other lawyers defended Kowtna as tough but fair, and Kowtna defended his courtroom demeanor as "very impartial and emotionally neutral.”

Staff writer Oscar Corral contributed to the above story LI Judge Indicted Despite wife's appeals, Nassau Jurist is accused of assault By Chau Lam NEWSDAY STAFF WRITER

More than a year after Nassau County Court Judge Paul Kowtna was arrested on charges he stabbed his wife during a dispute, a grand jury in Mineola yesterday indicted the veteran jurist on mulitiple assault charges.

Kowtna, 52, is accused of stabbing his wife, Mary Gail Kowtna, twice in the back on May 18 of last year, causing her left lung to collapse. Mary Gail Kowtna, 46, who was hospitalized for four days, has since recovered and returned to work as an auditor for the Medicaid Fraud Control Until of the state attorney general's office in Happauge.

The grand jury's indictment, handed up yesterday, came despite pleas from his wife that she did not want him prosecuted. She had said that her husband is not a threat to her or to their daughters.

Kowtna, who is free on $15,000 bail, is living at his New Hyde Park home with his family, his lawyer said. He was charged with two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, and two counts of third-degree assault. Kowtna faces two counts of each charge based on different elements of the law. One accuses Kowtna with the intent to cause "serious" physical injury to his wife and said he did cause such injury. The other accuses Kowtna of engaging in reckless conduct, which created a grave risk of death to his wife.

The various levels of the charges -- the most serious being first-degree assault, then second-degree assault, and finally third-degree assault -- are based on the extent of Mary Gail Kowtna's injury, the collapsed lung. If jurors convict Kowtna, and find the injury serious, they could convict him of first-degree assault, otherwise they could convict him of the lesser charges.

The grand jury also indicted Kowtna on charges of second-degree menacing, for waivng the knife at his wife, and with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Kowtna, whose lawyer said he rejected a plea offer of a misdemeanor with no jail time, faces 5 to 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge. Prosecutors declined to comment on the purported plea offer.

One of Kowtna's lawyers, William Petrillo of Mineola, said yesterday that the stabbing was an accident.

According to Petrillo, Mary Gail Kowtna was stabbed when she tried to prevent her husband from hurting himself with the knife. However, Petrillo declined to explain how the accident occured given that there were two stab wounds, both in her back.

"Paul suffered from severe depression and had a psychotic episode, which he has no memory of." Petrillo said in an interview yesterday.

At the appropriate time, Petrillo said, Kowtna's psychiatric history, which Petrillo said would help explain the judge's actions, will be shown to a trial jury. Then, Petrillo said, it will be clear how his clients actions were not criminal.

Kowtna, who has been on paid administrative leave since his arrest, is scheduled to be arraigned later this month in Nassau County Court in Mineola before Westchester Supervising Justice Joseph K. West, who was appointed to preside over the case to avoid a conflict of interest. For the same reason, Scott Kessler of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's office was appointed as special prosecutor. Wife Stab Judge Dodges Jail Time By Lisa Pulitzer and Andy Geller NEW YORK POST

A former Nassau County judge won't have to serve any time behind bars for stabbing his wife in the back during a mental breakdown.

At his sentencing yesterday, William Kowtna, who resigned from the bench in February and entered an insanity plea, was ordered to continue getting psychiatric treatment.

Kowtna, 53, had been indicted on charges that could have put him away for 25 years. But as part of a plea deal he made in resigning, Judge Joseph West, a jurist specially assigned to the case, did not send him to jail.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who handled the prosecution for Nassau County, said the sentence was "fair and appropriate." An examination by two psychiatrists found the ex judge "is no longer a danger to anyone, nor is he presently suffering from a dangerous mental disorder," he said.

Kowtna's lawyer, William Petrillo, said he was "pleased that the doctors on all sides were able to see this for what it was."

Kowtna and his wife, Mary, 47, "are very happy together," he said. "They have been together the entire time. She loves him and supports him wholeheartedly and she was against this prosecution from the beginning."

Mary suffered a collapsed lung and spent four days in the hospital as a result of the attack, which occurred May 18, 2000, in the couple's New Hyde Park home. In court papers, Mary said her husband was paranoid and delusional and kept calling others to say people were watching him. When she tried to stop him from making the calls, he picked up a steak knife and "told me to get away from the phone," she said. Stabbed Wife Breaks Silence By Chau Lam NEWSDAY STAFF WRITER

Mary Gail Kowtna broke a two-year-long silence Friday and thanked a judge in Mineola for not sending her husband to prison for stabbing her in the back, allowing him to reconcile with his family.

Mary Gail Kowtna was injured when her husband, former Nassau County Court Judge Paul Kowtna, twice plunged a kitchen knife into her back in their New Hyde Park home during what was later described by his lawyer, William Petrillo of Rockville Centre as a "psychotic episode".

Instead of prosecuting Kowtna, 53, for assault charges as a Nassau grand jury had decided, Kowtna was allowed to plead not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect, essentially claiming at the time of the incident he didn't know right from wrong.

"Thank you for restoring my husband to my family and to me," Mary Gail Kowtna, 47, said during a brief court appearance, in which Paul Kowtna was freed and ordered to continue psychiatric treatment for up to five years.

In exchange, the veteran jurist who won elections in 1993 as a Republican resigned from the bench in February. But for nearly two years while his case was pending, Paul Kowtna continued to receive his $136,700-a-year salary and benefits. On May 18, 2000 Kowtna and his wife were getting ready to drive their eldest daughter home from college when the incident occurred. Afterward, Paul Kowtna called 911 and told the operator that he had stabbed his wife.

Kowtna was indicted on two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree, two counts of third-degree assault, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree menacing. Had he been convicted of the most serious charges of first degree assault, Kowtna could have served up to 25 years in prison.

The purpose of Friday's court appearance was to determine whether Kowna is a danger and should be institutionalized. Two psychiatrists from the state office of mental hygiene agreed that Kowtna should not be committed, said State Supreme Court Justice Joseph K. West, the supervising judge in Westchester.

In addition, West said the state psychiatrists determined that Kowtna no longer suffers from a mental illness and discharged Kowtna on the condition he continues therapy for up to five years. West ordered the state office of mental hygiene to monitor Kowtna's progress and give him a monthly update.

Kowtna, who had not said much publicly, also thanked West and Mary Gail Kowtna. "Finally, I just want to say I am grateful to my wife and my family for understanding the situation and for her love," Kowtna said.

The irony in this saga is that as a sitting judge, Kowtna did not show the kind of compassion that has been bestowed on him, according to attorneys who have been in Kowtna's court.

As Kowtna and his wife walked out of the court-room Friday, Patricia Edmonds, 51, said Kowtna was harsh when he imposed a 10-to-20-year sentence after her son, Ebron Edmonds, was convicted of robbing someone with a gun.

"You had no mercy for anybody else. You shouldn't get any mercy either." Edmonds shouted. The Kowtnas did not respond and walked away.

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Honorable Denis Dillon - Former District Attorney, Nassau County and Former Federal Prosecutor

"If I or a loved one ever need the services of a criminal defense attorney, Bill Petrillo is the one I would count on for representation. No higher praise can be given to a fellow lawyer. Mr. Petrillo not only possesses excellent trial skills, but is also skillful at negotiating favorable dispositions for his clients. He treats everyone he encounters with respect and has earned the respect of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel. He is passionately devoted to his clients and constantly thinking of ways to benefit them. Finally, he is scrupulously honest and ethical while fighting tirelessly for the people he represents."

Fred B. Klein - Retired, Chief of Homicide, Nassau County District Attorney’s Office - Retired Attorney General

"Both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney, Bill Petrillo tried many cases in front of me in Nassau County Court. He won just about every one of those trials. When an attorney constantly wins trials it means that jurors respect him. When jurors respect an attorney they will listen to him, will follow his line of reasoning and give serious consideration to his various arguments. To get jurors to that point the attorney must project honesty, must balance fairness with understanding for all involved, have an absolute knowledge of the facts of the case and the applicable law, and he must be able to create an atmosphere of mutual respect with the judge. Bill Petrillo possesses all of these qualities."

Honorable Donald DeRiggi - Retired, Nassau County Court Judge

"As a prosecuting attorney for almost 30 years, I have observed many trial lawyers. Of the few that I judged to be excellent, only one was uniquely skilled in all of the qualities that contribute to tremendous success in the courtroom. His name is Bill Petrillo. A brilliant strategist who leaves no stone unturned, Bill has a rare natural gift for trying cases. He is a passionate lawyer and has won cases that were considered unwinnable."

James Watson - Retired Deputy Bureau Chief, Nassau County District Attorney's Office and Former Federal Prosecutor

"Bill Petrillo is a giant in the criminal defense community. Time and again I have observed him fearlessly battle the government, negotiate extraordinary plea deals, obtain the dismissal of indictments or acquittals after trial. He regards his clients as family and tries to protect them accordingly."

Kevin T. Kearon, Esq. - Past President, Criminal Courts Bar Association of Nassau County

"As a judge, I presided over felony cases for ten years. Bill Petrillo appeared before me on many occasions. He is as tenacious and talented an attorney as I ever encountered. Bill is an extraordinary advocate and I would strongly recommend him."

Honorable Victor M. Ort - Retired Nassau County Judge

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" Mr. Petrillo is a miracle worker. When faced with a situation that others told me was all but impossible to be resolved in a tolerable manner, Mr. Petrillo did the impossible. Throughout the whole process he was knowledgeable, honest, available, and incredibly professional. Having first gone to other highly recommended lawyers I was able to get a sense of different types of attorneys. Not only was the outcome something that the other attorneys couldn't dream of, but Mr. Petrillo's personality and general demeanor was miles beyond the others. In an incredibly trying time he was calming. But while he was pleasant to deal with personally, he also is incredibly fierce in the courtroom. You get the sense that what he does is not just his job, but his passion. There is nobody I would trust more."

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