SALEM — A Salem man is being held without bail, charged with punching and stabbing a small black kitten to death, taking a photo of it, then tossing the creature in a trash barrel more than a block away. 

Peter Rice, 43, of 37 Cabot St., pleaded not guilty to charges of animal cruelty, malicious injury to a domesticated animal and carrying a dangerous weapon during his arraignment Wednesday in Salem District Court. 

Rice was arrested Tuesday afternoon after a woman from Longmeadow called Salem police about text messages Rice had sent to her boyfriend, including an image of a kitten with a knife in its head. The woman forwarded the messages and image to Salem police. 

When police arrived at the apartment, they found Rice on the stairs. Rice repeatedly denied any knowledge of a cat. 

But inside the apartment, his girlfriend told officers that she had been frantically looking all over the apartment all morning for the cat, which, according to a prosecutor, she had been "cat sitting" for a neighbor. 

Police said they then asked Rice again where the cat was. 

Rice eventually admitted that he was playing a video game when the cat scratched his hand, prosecutor Haleigh Reisman told a judge. Rice then punched the cat, which appeared to convulse, then stabbed him one or two times, leaving the knife in the cat's head. 

He took a photo and sent it to a friend, then dumped the kitten in a trash barrel, he told police. 

Rice told police he was unsure of the location of the barrel because he was "wasted." 

Officers, who noticed scratches on Rice's hand consistent with his account, drove Rice through the neighborhood, hoping to jog his memory, but were unsuccessful. 

A detective who is now heading the investigation eventually found the kitten and knife in a barrel on Gardner Street, underneath some leaves.

Police also seized a second knife, a switchblade Rice was carrying when arrested. 

Rice acknowledged that it was "cowardly" to attack a kitten, and told officers he needs help. 

His Facebook profile describes Rice as a disabled Marine veteran, and his court-appointed attorney, Michael Bencal, said Rice was asking to be sent to a Veterans Administration hospital for treatment in lieu of being held in jail. 

Judge Randy Chapman opted to send Rice to Middleton Jail at least until next Tuesday, when a hearing to determine whether Rice poses a danger is scheduled. 

Prosecutors are also seeking the revocation of Rice's bail in a domestic abuse case brought against him last month involving his girlfriend. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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