Insanity defense possible as prof denies slaying his wife with hammer — (The Star-Ledger)

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The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)

July 9, 1996


He walked quickly with his head bowed, attempting to avoid news photographers, but glanced at his sister who wept quietly in the rear of a New Brunswick courtroom.  Later, Walter Petryshyn, 67, of North Brunswick, waved and smiled meekly at the woman, Olga Hnateyko, and her husband, Myron, before he was returned to the Middlesex County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Petryshyn, a prominent math professor at Rutgers University, was in court to plead not guilty to charges of fatally bludgeoning his wife, Arcadia Olenska-Petryshyn, 61.

His attorney, Barry Albin of Woodbridge, entered the not-guilty plea on his behalf. The hearing came after a county grand jury indicted the professor last week on charges of murder and a related weapons offense in connection with a claw hammer allegedly used to strike the woman in the head 30 times on May 6.During the arraignment, Petryshyn remained silent except to respond to questions posed by Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman.

.Mr. Albin.s going to be your lawyer?. the judge asked.   Yes, sir,. the professor replied in a small voice.   Do you have any questions?. Hoffman inquired.   No,. Petryshyn responded.  Outside court, Albin said his client was suffering from a debilitating depression and had been undergoing psychiatric care months before he allegedly attacked his wife in their North Brunswick home.   Albin added that Petryshyn continues to receive medication and mental health counseling at the county jail as he awaits trial. No trial date has been set.

The defense lawyer said he will notify the state later this week of plans to introduce a diminished capacity defense at trial, and said an insanity defense also is being considered, but .I haven.t really decided..

Diminished capacity is a legal defense in which it must be shown that the accused suffered from a mental disease or defect that prevented him from knowingly or purposefully committing murder.  Police claimed that the couple was arguing in their Hidden Lake townhouse on Willow Drive in North Brunswick when the math professor allegedly attacked his wife with the hammer.  The professor subsequently contacted his sister, who with her husband drove from their home in Clifton to North Brunswick, where they called police, authorities said.

Colleagues later said Petryshyn, who taught advanced mathematics at Rutgers for 29 years, had been in a mental tailspin since realizing he had made an error in his second published math textbook, entitled  Generalized Topological Degree and Semilinear Equations.   Associates also said he worried the mistake would make him the subject of ridicule.

Friends of the Ukrainian couple said the professor had helped nurse his wife back to health after she was diagnosed three years ago with breast cancer.  The woman had been an artist, whose abstracts of southwestern flora were displayed in prominent New York art galleries and were part of permanent collections at museums, including the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.   The couple had been married about 40 years, according to friends and neighbors.

Copyright 1996, 2001 The Star-Ledger. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Record Number:  star199631e32ac8e1