Petarius sentenced to six years in prison for last year's shootout in Waukesha

Published on: 11/5/2013

Judge Jennifer Dorow took mercy in sentencing former Sussex resident Richard A. Petarius to six years in prison on Tuesday, Nov. 5, citing mitigating factors presented by his friend and lawyer Peter Salza.

Petarius, 76, was charged last October with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, among a host of other charges, after shooting at a police officer during a hostage situation at his ex-wife's home in Waukesha.

Petarius pleaded guilty in August to reduced charges of second-degree reckless endangerment, false imprisonment, violating a domestic abuse injunction and two felony gun charges.

Petarius' attorney and longtime friend spoke at length about the incident, revealing several facts that may have come to light if the case had gone to trial.

"In all the years I have been practicing law, this is one of the hardest cases I have ever dealt with," Salza said.

Salza argued that his client was a deeply religious man who strove to keep his family together following the dissolution of his 55-year marriage. Petarius was suicidal during the Oct. 23 incident and intended to kill himself, not his wife, Salza said.

Salza spoke of a suicide note Petarius had apparently written for his daughter, Donna. The note, read by Salza, states: "Help your mother where possible. She will need it more than ever. Keep in touch with your brother and sister. God Bless you all."

Salza said that claims that Petarius had physically abused his ex-wife or his children were exaggerated, or untrue. Petarius requested a plea deal, Salza said, because he did not want to further trouble his ex-wife.

Petarius spoke of his love for his family and ex-wife during his statement to the court.

"I admit my guilt to the crimes, but the real crime here, the crime of passion, is that I fell in love with my wife, and I love her still," he said. "I will love her until I see my maker's face."

Petarius said he went to his wife's house on that day because he wanted to try and work things out. He said the charges were the "unintended result" of his behavior during the incident.

Longtime friend Jim Mahaney spoke in defense of Petarius, who he described as a "caring and thoughtful man."

Mahaney said that Petarius had volunteered for a number of years with the Shriners, transporting sick children and their families to hospitals in Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis.

Petarius' daughter Donna Kaun said through tears that her parent's divorce pushed her father "to the breaking point."

Prosecutor Pablo Galavis argued that the fact Petarius brought a shotgun to his ex-wife's home indicated that he wanted to use it.

"Phyllis needs to be protected, and I think the only way the state can protect this women is through imprisonment," he argued.

Dorow said that in determining her sentence, several mitigating factors brought up by Salza made her decide to show leniency, but the severity of the crimes still demanded a prison sentence.

"The fact remains that you fired a weapon in the general direction of an officer," Dorow said.

Dorow said that she did feel that Petarius had expressed remorse for the crimes, but still has a way to go before he fully accepts his responsibility.