Ex-prison guard cleared of felony assault charge
A Westmoreland County jury deliberated just 40 minutes, including the time it took it to eat lunch, to acquit a former state prison guard of felony sexual assault against a teenager he met through a social networking site.
The jury of eight men and four women convicted Brian Dulkis, 32, of Arona, of one misdemeanor count of corruption of a minor.
Jurors found Dulkis not guilty of more serious charges of statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault.
During the three-day trial, prosecutors contended that Dulkis had sexual relations with a 14-year-old at Bridgeport Dam Park in Mt. Pleasant Township on Feb. 18, 2011.
A Westmoreland County park policeman found Dulkis with his pants around his ankles, engaged in sexual activity with the girl in the front seat of his pickup truck at a secluded section of the park.
Although the teen admitted she lied about her age and told Dulkis she was 19, prosecutors argued the defendant should have known she was much younger.
The defense contended that Dulkis was reasonable to mistake her age based on her demeanor in text-message conversations and because they initially connected through an Internet site geared toward adults.
“We're pleased with the verdict,” said defense attorney Tim Andrews.
The three-day trial ended with Dulkis walking out of the courtroom facing up to five years in prison for the one conviction, according to Assistant District Attorney Jackie Knupp.
Judge Rita Hathaway allowed Dulkis to remain free on $100,000 bail, under house arrest, while he awaits sentencing in about three months.
Knupp said the verdict indicated that jurors “believed it was reasonable for him to believe she was not underaged.”
Dulkis did not testify during the trial. His defense consisted entirely of character witnesses, including Arona Mayor Jackie Bevan, who testified he had a reputation for being a law-abiding citizen.
During his closing argument, defense attorney Ken Burkley told jurors that Dulkis thought he had contacted an adult through the Internet and, based on the sexual content of two days of text messages, believed his partner was of age.
Under the law, Burkley said, jurors just had to find that Dulkis reasonably believed the teen was at least 16 years old to find him not guilty of the charges.
“His mistake was reasonable,” Burkley said.
Knupp argued that there were enough clues in the text-message conversations that Dulkis should have concluded the girl was much younger than she pretended to be.
Those messages included references to the girl's mother and permission that she needed to go out. Dulkis even questioned the girl's age in one text message, Knupp said.
“He went through with this; he's the adult,” Knupp said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.