WILKES-BARRE — The scar remains visible on Francis William Petroski’s face, but the veteran correctional officer says it was the fallout from a convicted killer’s prison knife-slashing that cut deepest.
The longtime SCI Dallas correctional officer announced his retirement following Joel Perez’s conviction Wednesday afternoon by a Luzerne County jury, citing a life changed and a career cut short due to the brazen ambush.
The inmate’s attack, Petroski said in a statement, cost him “a career that I would have continued on with had this incident not occurred.”
Perez, 42, was convicted on all five counts related to the April 17, 2014, ambush inside the medium-security state prison. The jury returned its verdict at about 1:15 p.m., less than an hour after deliberations were forced to restart due to a juror’s excusal.
Perez did not react as the jury foreman announced his fate.
Petroski, 45, of Dallas, said the attack strained his personal relationships, changed the person he used to be and fed into his decision to walk away from a nearly 17-year career as a corrections officer.
“It has kept me on edge watching my back,” said Petroski, a former member of the U.S. Army National Guard. “It has brought on negativity that wasn’t there previously. All in all, it has changed the man I once was.”
Prosecutors said Perez, who arrived at the prison in 1996 following a murder conviction in Lancaster County, sneaked up from behind Petroski, whispered something in his ear and slashed the right side of his face with a toothbrush handle embedded with a pair of razor blades.
A visible scar remains on the right side of Petroski’s face.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Hardik said the attack seriously injured Petroski and disfigured him for life. The scar, she said in her closing argument Wednesday morning, serves as a reminder of the ambush each time Petroski looks into a mirror.
Petroski, hired at the prison in 1999, and several fellow correctional officers that took the stand during the three-day trial identified Perez as the attacker. They say he fled down the prison’s main corridor before being taken to the ground and subdued.
Perez, however, had maintained his innocence, saying he is being “used as a scapegoat” because correctional officers inside the prison failed to protect themselves. Perez, who represented himself, claimed he had no motive to attack Petroski, who previously regarded him as a “quiet, church-going man.”
“Because I came out running from that block (does) not make me guilty,” Perez said Tuesday. “If someone was charging at you … you would run too.” Perez did not testify in his own defense.
Hardik said she was pleased with the verdict and hoped it will provide closure to Petroski and his family.
“You go to work one day and you don’t expect essentially your entire life to be changed,” Hardik said after the hearing. “At least a piece of it he can put behind him now.”
SCI Dallas spokesperson Robin Lucas confirmed Petroski retired Sept. 25. He is entitled to a partial pension, she said.
Hardik said she will ask for Perez’s sentence to be served consecutive to his life sentence, noting a large amount of restitution is also in play.
“I understand it appears there isn’t much we’re going to be able to do but that doesn’t mean we’re going to choose not to seek justice for the victims in this matter,” she said. “It at least sends a message that this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated.”
As Perez was being led out of the courthouse, he told reporters he wasn’t surprised by the verdict because there were no “Spanish people” or “black people” on the jury.
“There’s 12 white people, and it’s a case against a white person,” Perez said, noting he will likely appeal.
The jury initially began its deliberations shortly after 10:30 a.m., but was forced to start over about two hours later after juror David Thompson was excused. Thompson told Luzerne County Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. his dog had just died and was replaced by an alternate.
Told of Perez’s comments, Hardik said the jury was “clearly attentive to the matter.”
“They reviewed the evidence,” Hardik said. “They clearly put a lot of thought into it.”