PALMYRA, Maine — When one of their sons killed the other three years ago over a woman who said she wasn’t romantically involved with either of them, something didn’t add up for Harold and Rosanne Towle.
There was anger, shock and profound grief, but above all there was confusion about what caused Enoch Petrucelly to stab his older brother, Michael, to death.
“Enoch was a guy who wouldn’t kick a dog even if it bit him,” said Harold Towle, who has been Petrucelly’s stepfather since Enoch was 11 years old. “The whole family was shocked when he did it, but we knew there was something definitely wrong there.”
After Petrucelly’s arrest, three doctors working independently of one another reached the same diagnosis, said Towle: paranoid schizophrenia. In 2009 he was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity and, aside from a few visits to his family’s home in Palmyra on Thanksgiving and Christmas, has been at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta ever since. The restrictions on him were lifted significantly Tuesday when a judge ruled that Petrucelly can seek a part-time job up to 24 hours a week and have expanded visitation privileges with his family. To Petrucelly’s stepfather, the now 26-year-old’s recovery has been pronounced and remarkable.
“I’ve learned that [paranoid schizophrenia] is nothing you cure; It’s something you keep under control,” said Towle. “The doctors tried some medication on him and it was just like day and night. There was no reasoning with him before and within two days he was a completely different person.”
Enoch Petrucelly killed his brother Michael, who was 25 at the time, on North Haven Island on Aug. 10, 2008, according to the BDN’s archives. Petrucelly told police that he stabbed Michael three times in the chest because of a dispute over an older woman they were staying with while attending a music festival. The woman told police Petrucelly had imagined the relationship.
According to Towle, Petrucelly’s response to the medication for paranoid schizophrenia was dramatic, but it led to another problem.
“The medication made him rational enough to realize what he’d done,” said Towle. “Then they had to put him on suicide watch.”
Towle said Petrucelly still has “good days and bad ones” and sometimes becomes depressed about what he did.
“He’ll have to live with that for the rest of his life,” said Towle.
Towle said he doesn’t know what kind of job Petrucelly will pursue with his new freedoms, but said his stepson would like to use training he has received in physical therapy and massage.
“It’d be super if he could get into that line of work again,” said Towle. “He’s good at it and it’d be good for his treatment.”
Towle said the judgment by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy on Tuesday will also allow Petrucelly longer and more frequent visits with family members. Towle said he has traveled to Augusta once a month to take Petrucelly to a barber and that Petrucelly’s mother, Rosanna, has visited her son almost every week. Now Petrucelly will be allowed six-hour visits with his family, not including travel time.
Asked how long it took the family to forgive Petrucelly, Towle said it was more a matter of becoming educated about mental illness.
“It was kind of a mixed emotion that a lot of us had,” said Towle. “To forgive someone for something they didn’t have any control of in the first place, that’s what I’m trying to get at. It’s not so much forgiving him. It’s understanding what he’s been through.”
Towle said he’s familiar with mental illness after watching the struggles of some of the soldiers who he served in Vietnam with and after seeing the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” about a math genius struggling with schizophrenia.
“It really helped me understand how Enoch could do something like that,” said Towle.
In addition, several members of the family have been through training to understand Petrucelly’s illness and recognize whether he’s taking his medications. Towle said Petrucelly also knows the importance of his medication and trusts the advice of his doctors.
Despite all that, Towle said he knows others might not forgive Petrucelly to the degree his family has.
“As far as the risk to the general public, I say there are people who are out there running around who are at the stage Enoch was in the week before this happened. That’s a risk we all take when we wake up in the morning. As long as Enoch stays on his medication, he’s fine.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.