Published September 17, 2008
NEW YORK – It's not every trial where prospective jurors are asked, "Are you a vegan?" and "Have you ever been attacked by a cat?"
But the Manhattan felony animal-cruelty trial of dashing, blue-eyed actor Joseph Petcka — charged with vengefully bludgeoning to death his ex-girlfriend's cat — is no ordinary trial.
Opening statements are slated for Wednesday in the bizarre case, in which Petcka, a burly former Mets farm-team relief pitcher, is insisting he killed the diminutive orange tabby, Norman, in self-defense.
Petcka, 37, weighs 205 pounds, and is so brawny he once played the "Brawny Guy" on the paper-towel commercials. Norman at death weighed a mere 7½ pounds and appears in photos to be primarily comprised of hair.
Still, the table-waiting actor insists he was justified in kicking the little cat to get it off him after Norman chomped down on his right hand. Norman, he says, was just a mean, nasty cat.
"The cat had always hissed and growled at me as I was being nice to him," Petcka told ASPCA cops when he was arrested in April 2007. "I don't know why he attacked me, as I always wanted to keep my distance from him."
But today's star witness, Norman's bereaved owner, Lisa Altobelli, will tell a markedly different version of Petcka's "nice guy conquers savage beast" story.