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Patient's retrial opens in deadly meat-cleaver attack on NYC therapist; hung jury last year

Five years after a meat-cleaver-wielding schizophrenic killed a psychotherapist in her Manhattan office, prosecutors began their third try Monday at convicting him in a case repeatedly thrust into limbo by questions about his mental state.

David Tarloff admits he killed psychologist Kathryn Faughey in a bloodbath in her Upper East Side office. His defense argues the oft-hospitalized Tarloff was too psychotic to be held criminally responsible for an attack that spiraled from a peculiar stick-up plot.

But Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Evan Krutoy told jurors in an opening statement Monday that Tarloff "knew exactly what he was doing" when he lashed out at Faughey on Feb. 12, 2008. She shared office space with a psychiatrist whom Tarloff has said he aimed to rob, seeking money to spirit his mother out of a nursing home and make a life for them as far away as Hawaii.

"What he saw was someone who stood in his path for his task at hand," an obstacle to be removed, Krutoy said. "He removed Dr. Faughey by murdering her."

Tarloff's lawyers haven't yet given their opening statement. But they have previously argued that while Tarloff had a plan, it was so delusional that it shows he was mentally ill and unable to tell right from wrong.

The retrial comes after a jury deadlocked last year. A 2010 attempt at a trial stalled during jury selection because of Tarloff's unstable behavior. For long stretches after his 2008 arrest, he was found unfit even to stand trial.

Faughey, 56, had never treated Tarloff, a promising high school student who was diagnosed with schizophrenia while in college. Faughey's psychiatrist officemate, Dr. Kent Shinbach, had had Tarloff hospitalized the first time, in 1991, but hadn't seen him since.

Tarloff was convinced his mother was being mistreated in her nursing home and wanted money to get her out. He decided to hold up Shinbach, figuring he could get the doctor's ATM code and withdraw $40,000 or more.

He encountered Faughey first. He slashed her 15 times with the cleaver and fractured her skull with a mallet.

"I didn't go there to hurt anybody," Tarloff said later in a video-recorded statement. He said he reacted out of a belief that Faughey "was going to kill me," though he also has told doctors he thought she was maliciously aligned with Shinbach.

But prosecutors and Faughey's relatives say that if Tarloff is sick, he also was a scheming criminal and should be held accountable as one.

Tarloff bought weapons for the robbery, called ahead to find out the office's hours and quickly volunteered a lie about what he was doing in the building when someone passed him in the stairwell, Krutoy noted. After the attack, Tarloff successfully avoided authorities for a few days before police identified him through fingerprints.

Some of Faughey's six siblings have attended every one of Tarloff's court dates, and five were there Monday as prosecutors outlined the brutal details of her death for a new jury.

"We have to relive Feb. 12, 2008, every single day of these trials," one of her brothers, Michael Faughey, said afterward.

If convicted, Tarloff could face up to life in prison. If his insanity defense succeeds, he could be held indefinitely in a psychiatric hospital.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz

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