Published September 23, 2008
NEW YORK – A jury is deciding whether the death of a Sports Illustrated reporter's 8-pound tabby was a tragic accident — or felonious animal cruelty.
Prosecutors say former minor league baseball player Joseph Petcka beat, stomped and kicked the cat to death in a jealous and drunken fury after complaining that his girlfriend loved the feline more than she loved him.
Petcka's attorney said his client overreacted but did not intentionally kill Norman the cat.
Jurors were to resume deliberations Tuesday in the aggravated animal cruelty trial of Petcka, who pitched in the New York Mets' minor league system in 1992.
Petcka, 37, claimed he unintentionally killed the declawed cat on March 27, 2007, while defending himself from it, but prosecutor Leila Kermani on Monday called him a liar, describing him as a "washed-up, never-made-it-to-the-big-leagues athlete" and a "D-minus list" actor.
She said the cat would not have had such extensive injuries if Petcka had simply swatted and kicked it away as he said.
Petcka was frustrated that his girlfriend Lisa Altobelli 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 during closing arguments 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.
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.
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.