WILKES-BARRE — A convicted killer defending himself against charges he sank a homemade knife into the face of an SCI Dallas correctional officer two years ago says he’s being blamed for a crime he didn’t commit.
Joel Perez, 42, told jurors in his opening statement Tuesday he had no motive to attack Francis William Petroski and is being “used as a scapegoat” because correctional officers inside the medium-security state prison failed to do their jobs.
Perez allegedly ambushed Petroski on April 17, 2014, whispered something in the veteran correctional officer’s ear and cut him on the right side of his face using a toothbrush handle embedded with a pair of razor blades. A visible scar remains on Petroski’s face from his jawline up to his right ear.
Petroski, 45, of Dallas, testified in court Monday he’ll likely have the scar for the rest of his life.
Perez, after waiving the right to make his openings Monday, addressed the jury late Tuesday morning after Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michelle Hardik rested her case. Speaking from behind a podium with a thick Hispanic accent, Perez argued prosecutors’ allegations are a case of “mistaken identity.”
“After hearing all the evidence in this case you will reach the conclusion the defendant is only being used as a scapegoat in this case because correctional officers weren’t doing their jobs,” Perez said. “As a result, an officer was hurt by an unknown perpetrator and now I am wrongfully accused of a crime I did not commit.”
Witness testimony, including Petroski himself, as well as video evidence showing Perez running from the scene of the attack proves otherwise, Hardik argued Monday.
But Perez, who arrived at the prison in 1996 after being convicted in Lancaster County of first-degree murder, argued anyone would run if they were being chased.
“Because I came out running from that block (does) not make me guilty,” Perez said. “If someone was charging at you … you would run too.”
Petroski, Perez said, previously regarded him as a “quiet, church-going man.” Perez argued he had no reason to ambush the correctional officer and urged jurors to clear him of the charges.
“You will come to the conclusion Joel Perez is not guilty and had no motive to attack Mr. Petroski,” Perez told jurors.
Petroski, hired at the prison in 1999, identified Perez as his attacker and said the convicted killer was the only Hispanic within 10 feet of him after he was slashed. He said he chased Perez down the prison’s main corridor and took him to the ground with the help of fellow correctional officers. Perez tossed the makeshift knife before he was subdued, Petroski said.
Realizing he was cut, Petroski went to the prison infirmary and asked for a nurse, he said. He was later transferred to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township for surgery. He was released the following day, but continues to receive counseling to this day, he said.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Perez argued investigators violated the U.S. Constitution by failing to collect blood or DNA evidence from the attack.
Pennsylvania State Police Tpr. Charles J. Prula testified there is no such requirement in the Constitution. Blood wasn’t collected, Prula said, because it was evident the blood found at the scene came from Petroski since he was the only one cut.
“It was his blood that was on your clothing,” the trooper said.
Perez faces three counts of aggravated assault as well as one count each of possession of a weapon by an inmate and assault by prisoner.
The trial is expected to conclude Wednesday.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL