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What you need to know for 11/19/2017

Police statement: Man doused stepdad with gas in bed, set him on fire

Police statement: Man doused stepdad with gas in bed, set him on fire

Hearing reveals details of August attack, death
Police statement: Man doused stepdad with gas in bed, set him on fire
Andrell Leppanen after his arraignment in August 2016.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

SCHENECTADY -- His stepfather still in bed upstairs, Andrell Leppanen let the dog out and spotted a gas can.

Leppanen, who family members have said has a history of mental health problems, took the gas can that Aug. 26 morning and poured its contents into a nearby cooking pot, according to an account he gave police under questioning. He then carried the pot upstairs, doused his stepfather with it and used a lit cigarette to light his stepfather on fire, he said.

Leppanen, 29, detailed the attack under questioning after his arrest. Prosecutors played video of his account Wednesday in court, during a hearing for Leppanen's second-degree murder case.

His stepfather, 59-year-old Kevin Hawkins, was taken to Westchester Medical Center's burn unit, but he died from his injuries nearly two months after the attack. Leppanen is accused of attacking his stepfather at the family's 925 Bridge St. apartment.

His statement to police also included a motive for attacking Hawkins as Hawkins lay in bed: an argument between the two the night before. Leppanen believed his stepfather wasn't respecting him, according to the recorded account.

Leppanen's defense continues to explore Leppanen's mental health history and possible related defenses, his attorney Steve Signore said later Wednesday.

Family members have said Leppanen suffered from both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. His mother, Latonia Hawkins, has said Leppanen displayed aggression and indicated problems with both his medication and mood in the weeks leading up to the attack. He twice checked himself in to Ellis Hospital over that time, signing himself out the second time hours after arriving, she said.

The defense is awaiting a psychologist's evaluation of Leppanen before deciding on an approach, Signore said. Prosecutors would have a chance to have their own expert examine him, if a mental disorder defense were pursued.

"Everything's on the table right now," Signore said.

Investigators spoke with Leppanen shortly after finding him Aug. 28, two days after the attack.

He spoke softly in the video played in court, initially telling the investigator he didn't know what happened, or didn't remember. Pressed with accounts from the scene from his stepfather and neighbors, Leppanen soon admitted to setting his stepfather on fire.

A judge is to decide later whether the videotaped statement is admissible at trial.

Though Hawkins was Leppanen's stepfather, he raised Leppanen since the age of 2, according to family members. Hawkins owned Keys World, a store that sells clothing and other items on Albany Street.

He was known to patrons and others simply as "Uncle Kev," a good-natured and caring man who helped others.

If a mental health-based defense were successful, Leppanen would remain in custody at a secure psychiatric facility.

Other options include pleading guilty as part of a plea deal or going to trial, though Signore indicated in court that no plea offers are being considered, as the defense awaits the psychiatric examination results.

If convicted of murder, Leppanen would face up to 25 years to life in state prison.

Leppanen's court hearing comes days after police said another man used gasoline to attack a family member in Schenectady. Antonio Bargallo, 69, is accused of killing his wife, Elizabeth Gonzalez, 48, by dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire at their Elmer Avenue residence.

She died of her injuries Sunday.

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