WILKES-BARRE — The scar running up the right side of Francis Petroski’s face is a mark he said he’ll likely have for life.
Taking the stand in his alleged attacker’s trial Monday, the SCI Dallas correctional officer raised his arm and pointed to the inmate he said left him that way when he sneaked up from behind and sunk a homemade knife into his cheek.
Petroski identified 42-year-old Joel Perez, on trial in Luzerne County Court this week on three counts of aggravated assault and one count each of possession of a weapon by an inmate and assault by prisoner for allegedly ambushing the veteran correctional officer on April 17, 2014.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Hardik said in her opening statements that Perez came up from behind Petroski, whispered in his ear and slashed his face with a homemade knife — identified in the criminal complaint as two razor blades embedded into a toothbrush handle.
The blades, Petroski testified, cut along his jaw line through his right ear and felt like a hard slap.
“I will always have a scar on my face,” he said.
Perez, serving a life sentence for a 1995 murder, fled into a main corridor where he was tackled to the ground and subdued by Petroski and other correctional officers, Petroski testified. Only then did Petroski realize he was bleeding, he said.
“My right ear was pretty much cut in half,” he said.
Perez was transferred to the medium-security prison in 1996 following a first-degree murder conviction in Lancaster County. Perez, published reports say, shot 18-year-old Kalif Mack-Coates in the abdomen as he was firing at another man who had just beaten him in a fight.
Perez, who is representing himself, exercised his right to make his opening statement after the commonwealth rests it case, but cross-examined the man he is accused of attacking about his account of the ambush.
Perez argued Petroski made conflicting statements about who it was who cut him, saying previously that it was “somebody with a Spanish accent” — not Perez — who attacked him.
“You say somebody with a Spanish accent which means you were unsure who did that to you. Is my nickname ‘somebody?’” asked Perez, speaking with a heavy accent that often prompted Petroski and the court reporter to ask him to repeat himself.
“You were the only Hispanic inmate within 10 feet following the attack,” Petroski replied.
Petroski, a nearly 17-year veteran at SCI Dallas, was initially treated in the prison infirmary but was later transferred to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center for surgery, he said. He was released a day after he was attacked, but has been receiving psychological treatment ever since, he said.
The trial is expected to last less than a week.