Jurisdiction hearing reveals new information about motive and state of mind of suspected Dutchess County killer

Paul Senecal, 38, has undergone 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.

The three assessors stood to testify Tuesday at his jurisdictional hearing in Dutchess County Court.

The two psychologists who declared Senecal unfit to stand trial, Dr Zoey Berko and Dr Martha Agresta, said in court they could no longer stick to their rulings after hearing a recorded phone call from jail between Senecal and his sister, in which the murder suspect allegedly spoke in detail about his case and his defense against insanity.

A third psychologist and expert witness, Dr. Lawrence Siegal, declared Senecal fit to stand trial and testified that the defendant knew what he was doing at the time of the murder and was able to understand the charges against him.

Siegal said Senecal was under house arrest and lied about why he had to leave his home when he allegedly killed Chianese.

He said Senecal told authorities he left his wallet at the grocery store when he drove to the victim’s home instead.

The psychologist said Senecal cut off his ankle monitor and took an Uber to McDonald’s after he murdered the victim and told the driver the blood on his hands was his from a biking accident in the woods.

Chianese’s family and friends were in court and spoke to News 12.

“I think he is more than competent to stand trial,” said Melanie Chianese’s aunt, Kaitlin Balioni. “It’s just his personality. It’s who he is.

Testimony also revealed that Senecal previously lived with the victim and his 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 for the date of the funeral to send a condolence card, and prosecutors said he used the prison computer to email the victim’s mother during a of its virtual assessments.

She said he also violated court orders barring him from contacting Cheryl Chianese by sending letters to her home and work under false names and through other inmates.

The three psychologists said Senecal had a history of mental illness, attempted suicide and had diagnosed him with depression and anxiety – but at the moment it remains to be seen whether he is fit to stand trial.

The hearing ended with Berko and Agresta saying they needed more time to review the case to decide on the defendant’s fitness to stand trial.

The Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office says evaluators have until Nov. 11 to reevaluate Senecal and submit any amended findings.

Senecal’s jurisdictional hearing is now set to resume on Nov. 14.