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Actor Accused Of Killing Girlfriend's Cat

A trial has begun in the case of a baseball player-turned-actor accused of brutally killing a cat in a jealous rage after complaining that his ex-girlfriend cared more for the feline than she did for him.

Assistant District Attorney Leila Kermani said the cat named Norman died with broken teeth, broken ribs, a broken leg, a torn tongue, massive internal injuries including bruised lungs and a bruised liver and a chest cavity filled with blood.

"The defendant, in a fit of anger and rage, beat a defenseless animal to death," Kermani told the jury in her opening remarks Wednesday. "The defendant killed Norman simply because he was an angry, jealous and drunken bully."

Former New York Mets baseball minor leaguer Joseph Petcka, 37, is on trial on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals for killing Norman on March 27, 2007, after a night of heavy drinking. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

Petcka's lawyer, Charles Hochbaum, admitted his client kicked the 8-year-old tabby and "swatted him really hard" after the cat bit him, but he said his client did not mean to kill him.

"This was a tragic accident," Hochbaum said. "It was not intentional."

Hochbaum complained the district attorney's office never offered his client a plea deal. He said outside court he believes that was because of the publicity the case attracted and the urgings of cat fanciers.

Norman's owner, Lisa Altobelli, testified she had dated Petcka about six weeks before he killed her cat. She said one night they quarreled and he began drinking heavily. She said she went to bed to avoid him but he woke her around 3 a.m. by putting his knee in her ribs and complaining that Norman had attacked him.

Altobelli, a Sports Illustrated reporter, said she left the apartment after Petcka refused to calm down.

She said Petcka had complained, "You love that cat more than you love me," but she had no idea Norman would be in danger. When she returned home Norman did not meet her at the door as usual. She found his body under her bedside table.

Petcka, a pitcher briefly in the Mets' minor league system in 1992, later appeared in a paper towel commercial and had small roles in "Sex and the City" and other television shows. Hochbaum said his client had more recently worked as a bartender and waiter.

The former minor leaguer, a hulking 6-foot-3, 205 pound man rejected a plea offer from the Manhattan District Attorney's office in Dec. 2007. The deal would have allowed him to serve only three months in jail, but Petcka decided to take his chances at trial.

Before the trial began, The New York Post reported that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus was getting numerous phone calls letters from animal lovers dismissing Petcka's claim of self-defense, noting that it's ludicrous to believe that a 205-pound man was threatened by a 7-pound feline. Some even called the courtroom demanding his death by hanging, the Post reported.

A thread on a message board on the Internet Movie Database, where Petcka's acting credits are listed, is populated with cat lovers wishing Petcka bad luck at his trial. One poster on that board wrote "Norman was more of a man than he will ever be!"