Did jealousy lead to cat murder?

September 22, 2008 5:08:36 PM PDT
A "washed-up" former minor league baseball player had "zero income and no prospects" last year when he became jealous of his girlfriend's love for her cat and killed the furry feline, a prosecutor said Monday. Joseph Petcka, who pitched in the New York Mets' minor league system in 1992, was a "washed-up, never-made-it-to-the-big-leagues athlete" and a "D-minus list" actor, Assistant District Attorney Leila Kermani told jurors during her closing argument in Petcka's aggravated animal cruelty trial.

Petcka, 37, claimed he unintentionally killed the cat while defending himself from it, but Kermani called him a liar. She said the cat would not have had such extensive injuries if Petcka had simply swatted and kicked it away as he said.

Kermani said Petcka beat, stomped and kicked the declawed 8-pound tabby to death on March 27, 2007, in a jealous and drunken fury after complaining that girlfriend Lisa Altobelli loved the cat, named Norman, more than she loved him.

Petcka was frustrated that Altobelli, a Sports Illustrated reporter, was ending their six-week relationship, the prosecutor said, so he vented his frustration and anger on the cat.

"He wasn't even in her league," Kermani said. "At best he was just arm candy."

Petcka's lawyer, Charles Hochbaum, told jurors in closing that it was not enough to decide whether they believed the defendant. He said they should focus on whether the prosecution proved its case against Petcka.

Petcka is charged in Manhattan's state Supreme Court with aggravated animal cruelty and harassment. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

The jurors deliberated Monday until about 5 p.m. They were to resume Tuesday.

Hochbaum accused Kermani of tailoring the facts to fit her theory "that he brutalized this cat because he was mad at Lisa."

"They want to take this and run with it and say that in a depraved and sadistic manner he killed this cat," Hochbaum said.

Petcka testified Friday that he hit and kicked the orange and white long-haired cat after it bit his right hand and drew blood.

He said Norman hissed and growled at him, lunged at him and "his teeth were bared."

Hochbaum, argued that the animal cruelty law applies only in cases in which animals are intentionally tortured with a sadistic intent to injure or kill. He said his client overreacted but did not intentionally kill Norman.

Altobelli said she dated Petcka for about six weeks before he killed her cat. She said they quarreled after going out the evening of March 26, 2007, and he drank heavily.

Altobelli testified that Petcka woke her to complain Norman had bitten him. They argued and she went out, she said, and when she returned Petcka was gone and Norman was dead.

Petcka appeared in a paper-towel commercial and had small roles in "Sex and the City" and other television shows. He more recently worked as a bartender and waiter.

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