A Bel Air attorney pleaded guilty yesterday to helping a friend break into the home of the friend's estranged wife, where the attorney killed the family kitten by zapping it in the microwave oven.
With tears streaming down his face, attorney Stanley E. Protokowicz Jr., 37, told the court that the cat's death had been an accident. He apologized profusely and said he and his friend had been drinking heavily before the break-in.
"If it is in your power," he told the judge, "I'd rather be sent to jail than to have the kids, my partners or my family have to go through anything else."
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe sentenced Protokowicz to a year in jail on one count of breaking and entering. He also received 90 days on a charge of cruelty to animals. Both jail terms were suspended.
Protokowicz then was given 18 months of supervised probation and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service. He also must seek treatment for alcoholism, provide restitution and counseling for the children whose cat he killed, and pay $1,000 in fines and court costs.
Protokowicz had faced a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $500 fine on the breaking and entering charge, and 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine on the cruelty charge.
Harford County Assistant State's Attorney Jay E. Robinson said Thomas Sanders, who was identified as Protokowicz's friend and former client, has been charged with two counts of breaking and entering in connection with the Oct. 13 incident and another break-in at his estranged wife's home the previous day.
Mr. Sanders is to be tried separately.
Because Protokowicz frequently argues cases before Harford County judges, yesterday's hearing was assigned to Judge Howe, who sat in Harford County Circuit Court.
His attorney, August F. Brown, told the court that the state Attorney Grievance Commission has notified Protokowicz that it is looking into the incident. The inquiry could lead to disciplinary action or disbarment.
Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford County state's attorney, said his office began investigating the case after Mr. Sanders' estranged wife, Nancy Anderson Sanders, reported the Oct. 13 break-in to the county sheriff's office.
Ms. Sanders also filed the complaint against Protokowicz with the Attorney Grievance Commission Dec. 14.
In the grievance, she said that she and Mr. Sanders separated in April 1991 and that she and the children moved into a new home.
The complaint accused Mr. Sanders and Protokowicz -- who represented Mr. Sanders in some of the couple's divorce proceedings -- of breaking into the home. Ms. Sanders and the children were away at the time.
The complaint alleged that Protokowicz "placed the kitten in the microwave oven. At some point he turned on the microwave with Max, the kitten, still inside."
After returning home, the family found the 7-month-old kitten dead on the kitchen floor with "champagne poured on it," according to the complaint.
At first, the family thought Max had been poisoned, but then cat hair was found in the microwave. An autopsy revealed the animal had died from hemorrhage of the lungs.
Mr. Brown told the court that Mr. Sanders and Protokowicz had moved in together after separating from their wives.
Mr. Brown described his client as depressed by the end of his marriage and the recent death of another friend. Protokowicz had consumed a half bottle of rum and shared some beer with Mr. Sanders when they decided to break into Ms. Sanders' home and search for papers connected with the divorce proceedings.
Once inside the house, Mr. Brown said, the men drank a bottle of champagne. When the family kitten got underfoot and jumped onto a counter, Protokowicz placed it in the microwave mounted over the range.
Later, while trying in the dark to turn on the light beneath the microwave, Protokowicz inadvertently started the microwave, Mr. Brown said.
When Mr. Sanders heard the microwave beeping, he ran to the kitchen, Mr. Brown said. The dead kitten was removed from the oven and dropped onto a puddle of champagne that had been spilled on the floor earlier.
The two men fled in a panic, Mr. Brown said.
"I didn't belong in your house that night," Protokowicz told Ms. Sanders in his tearful courtroom apology. "I invaded your privacy. I wasn't thinking straight that night."