SOMETIMES, when Ronald Pituch looks into the faces of "good people," he says, he sees only demons.
Mental illness, he says, has twisted his mind for years, and the hallucinations combined with the lyrics of a Metallica song called "Ronnie" pushed him toward some unforetold horror.
His "tenseness" uncoiled on Oct. 17, 2002, leaving his mother, Josephine, and an 11-year-old boy named Gregory Katsnelson dead. He surrendered in connection with both murders and has been behind bars ever since.
Now Pituch, a diagnosed schizophrenic, wants a Burlington County court to throw out the 2004 guilty plea that sent him to prison for 50 years.
He contends that he wasn't properly medicated when he pleaded guilty, and he wants to reopen the case so he can mount an insanity defense. "I believe this case should be re-examined," he said. "I want to try to get back into a hospital."
Pituch himself filed the application to reopen the case and is scheduled to appear in court next month.
Mother slain with a barbell
Shortly after 3 p.m. on that October day almost six years ago, Pituch bludgeoned his mother with a 20-pound barbell.
Police said Pituch snapped when his mother refused to buy him cigarettes. He denies that small detail, but nothing else.
"I felt like it was coming," Pituch, 33, said Tuesday during an interview at the maximum-security New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton. "The walls were coming in."
After tying up his 5-year-old niece, he sped off on a dirt bike from his family's home in Medford, Burlington County, police said.
Meanwhile, Gregory Katsnelson had finished his homework and hopped on his bicycle to find his friends in the woods and trails that snake through the King's Grant development in nearby Evesham Township.
Somewhere in the woods, their paths crossed and Pituch fatally stabbed the honor student, dumping his body into a shallow pond in Evesham.
Pituch turned himself in hours later.
Metallica in his head
Pituch said he had stopped taking his medication months before the murders, despite his family's pleadings. He had become obsessed with a high school classmate, and "Ronnie" was playing in an endless loop inside his head.
"I was drinking and I was out of it. That song was always in my head, too. There was just so much pressure building up. . . . Ahhh," he said, squeezing his trembling hands at the air. "I caved."
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, Katsnelson's family, and Nikki Roberts, the high school classmate he had been harassing prior to the murders, all say that Pituch should remain in New Jersey's only maximum-security penitentiary.
"We're confident that when this is reviewed by the court it will be perceived for what it is -- a last-ditch effort to avoid responsibility for his actions on that day," said Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi.
Katsnelson's parents, Cathy and Mark Katsnelson, said in a prepared statement that "Mr. Bernardi has always done everything he can to ensure that justice is served, and we have absolute faith that he will continue to do so."
The murdered boy's older brother, Aaron Katsnelson, 21, an aspiring graphic designer in Brooklyn, said Pituch destroyed his family's life and his own teenage innocence.
"It was like a big blanket of melancholy had covered my life," he said. "I had to rethink my views."
Aaron Katsnelson attended the sentencing hearing in January 2005, when a tearful Pituch apologized to the family.
"He seemed as if he knew what he was agreeing to," he said. "At this point, no matter what he does, it doesn't change anything."
Obsession with ex-classmate
In the prison interview Tuesday, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Pituch revealed that he had gone in search of Roberts after he killed his mother. "I don't know if I would have hurt her," he said. "I don't know."
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