Homeless woman accused in A.C. killings pleads not guilty

Posted: January 10, 2013

MAYS LANDING, N.J. - A homeless Philadelphia woman charged with stabbing to death a Canadian mother and daughter visiting Atlantic City last spring pleaded not guilty when she was arraigned Wednesday in Superior Court.

Her lawyer told the judge that the woman would undergo a psychiatric evaluation before her next hearing.

Antoinette Pelzer, 44, who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, appeared in court handcuffed and shackled at the waist and ankles, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, her hair neatly braided in cornrows, looking alert. But she did not utter a word during the proceeding before Judge Mark H. Sandson.

Her lawyer, Holly Bitters, waived a reading of the double-homicide charges against Pelzer before entering the not-guilty plea. With a nod, Pelzer acknowledged the presence of family - her mother, two daughters, and a grandson - when she entered and left the courtroom.

That behavior differed from her first court appearance two days after the May 21 killings, when she made strange faces, laughed, and expressed surprise when the charges read in court indicated that two women, not one, had died. At the time, the suspect appeared wild-eyed, with her hair askew, and seemed to notice only the media.

Pelzer was indicted Nov. 27 on eight counts, including two each of first-degree and felony murder. Her bail was set at $1.5 million, and she is being held at the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton.

Pelzer, who attended West Philadelphia High School, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 24, her family said. She is the mother of three adult children and long struggled with homelessness.

Outside the courtroom, Gladys Pelzer, mother of the defendant, said she and the defendant's two grown daughters and a grandson had driven to Atlantic County from Philadelphia to show support. She said her daughter "was failed by the system" because it had not properly dealt with her long-term mental-health issues.

Bitters said she planned to order a psychiatric evaluation with a private physician before the next hearing, scheduled for Feb. 4. The move could be a preliminary step in a possible insanity defense.

Pelzer is charged with killing Alice Mei See Leung, 47, and her mother, Po Lin Wan, 80, both of Scarborough, Ontario, with a 12-inch butcher knife as the two women walked along Pacific Avenue near Bally's Atlantic City Casino Hotel.

Surveillance video of the attack, which lasted about 13 seconds, shows Pelzer running across the street outside the casino. Pelzer tries to take Leung's purse and stabs Leung repeatedly when Leung does not let go of the bag. Pelzer is then shown stabbing Wan as she tries to intervene on her daughter's behalf.

Leung, who had driven to Atlantic City with her mother from their home near Toronto, was an accounting manager in a Canadian iron-mines company and played the yangqin, a hammered dulcimer, with the Toronto Chinese Orchestra.

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo

at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo. Read the Jersey Shore blog, "Downashore,"

at www.philly.com/downashore.


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