CENTRAL ISLIP - The mother of an ex-con accused of killing and attempting to dismember his neighbor says her son is mentally ill and needs help, but neighborhood friends aren't buying it.

Aston Barth is accused of choking his next-door neighbor Jason Campbell to death before trying to decapitate him and then stuffing the body into his bedroom closet. The corpse remained there for a week.

Connie Barth, the suspect's mother, says her son is a "mentally disturbed, emotional child" who has battled mental illness since he was little. She said he once cut off a dog's head and put it on her front lawn, and did other "crazy things" as a child. She said Barth was treated at South Oaks and Sagamore psychiatric centers, but his problems only worsened with age.

But Sean Epps, who says he was friends with both the victim and the suspect, says Barth "never acted crazy" when they were growing up and attending high school together. He says he suspects Connie Barth is just trying to protect her son.

Sources tell News 12 Long Island that Barth had been showing up for his cook job at the Brentwood Applebees for the whole week while his friend's corpse was stuffed in his bedroom closet.

Police are also investigating a car fire that may be linked to the alleged murder. Yesterday, a Ford Explorer at Barth's home was intentionally set on fire. Police say Barth had been known to drive the SUV. No one was injured in that incident.