WILKES-BARRE — Maybe there was bad blood between John Dulsky and Brian Pavia.
And maybe a Dec. 17 altercation between the two men as they stood outside a Forty Fort law office really did start over a snow blower, leaving the armed Pavia feeling bewildered and threatened as the unarmed Dulsky pummeled him in the face, according to what Pavia told police.
Whatever transpired before Pavia shot Dulsky, 38, of Wilkes-Barre, in the neck and lower back that frigid night, Pavia didn’t appear in Luzerne County Court on Thursday afternoon to explain his actions, only to admit that he is guilty of third-degree murder — and that he is prepared to accept the consequences.
“I would like to apologize and express my sympathies to the Dulsky family,” Pavia, holding a written statement and leaning on a cane, said before Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough handed down a six-to-12-year state prison sentence against the 39-year-old Plains Township man.
“I never wanted this to happen,” Pavia said. “I think about John every day. I would do anything to turn back the hands of time, and I am truly sorry.”
The two men were contractors for the Limongelli & Limongelli law office. According to a criminal complaint, Pavia told police he had “numerous run-ins” with Dulsky in the past.
Pavia’s acceptance of a plea deal offered by prosecutors averted a trial at which he risked facing life in prison, but which also could have been a long and painful experience for all involved.
For that, at least, Dulsky’s family was grateful on Thursday.
“I thank you for that, because I need to go on with my life,” older sister Regina Stier told Pavia as she stood before the court. “For the last five months, it has been hell,” she said.
Thursday’s hearing was not a time to discuss the alleged tensions between the men, but in post-sentencing interviews both Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino and defense attorney Frank Nocito told reporters that they believed the plea, and Vough’s sentence, were appropriate given the circumstances of the case.
“This case, and most cases, are not a slam dunk,” Ferentino told reporters after sentencing.
“He did shoot him,” Ferentino said, “but you have to consider the totality of the circumstances.”
When Pavia went to the building to pick up a snow blower that December night, he didn’t know Dulsky was there, he told police. Matters soon escalated.
“I need help, a guy just came after me. I shot him; I need your help very badly. Please hurry,” Pavia was heard screaming when a recording of a 911 call was played at his preliminary hearing before District Judge David Barilla earlier this year.
“This guy was coming at me. He punched me. I’m spitting up blood. He broke my nose. It’s pretty bad,” Pavia was heard saying.
Forty Fort police officer Brian Casella testified at the preliminary hearing that Pavia was treated in the emergency room at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for facial injuries. A physician said Pavia did not suffer a broken nose.
A troubled past
As previously reported, Dulsky was not a stranger to the law, up to and including a harassment conviction in Lackawanna County that resulted in a 30-day jail sentence.
In that case, according to documents reviewed by The Times Leader, Dulsky was asked to leave a business in Olyphant in November 2012, shouting at a manager that his uncle worked there.
Angry at his uncle for reasons not disclosed in court papers, Dulsky later called the manager and unleashed a torrent of profanity, accusing the man of molesting his son and threatening to slash his throat.
In Luzerne County, previous charges against Dulsky included criminal trespass, assault, forgery, theft and disorderly conduct.
Attorneys would not elaborate on Pavia’s allegations of previous encounters with Dulsky.
Earlier plea noted
Pavia previously pleaded not guilty in February, and his attorneys — brothers Frank and Joe Nocito — said then that their client had acted in self defense after Dulsky struck him during a fight behind the Wyoming Avenue law office just before 7 p.m. on Dec. 17.
Like Ferentino did Thursday, Frank Nocito acknowledged in an interview after sentencing that Pavia’s plea on Thursday reflected legal realities.
“I think it’s a very limited, almost rare, set of circumstances when deadly force can be used with legal justification,” Nocito said.
In addition to his prison term, Pavia will have to make more than $1,200 in restitution to state police and nearly $3,000 to the victims’ compensation fund. He already has paid $2,916 to Dulsky’s family for funeral expenses.
Pavia was to be remanded to state prison as soon as possible, but Vough said he would allow the defense to present medical evidence to the clerk of courts office so corrections officials are aware of various health conditions suffered by Pavia. Those details were not disclosed.
For Dulsky’s grieving family, Thursday brought an opportunity to address Pavia in person. The Wilkes-Barre native left behind his parents, two sisters, nieces and nephews and a 5-year-old son.
“In my opinion, I think God wants me to forgive you, but I don’t see that happening right now,” Dulsky’s mother, Margaret Czerpak, said tearfully.
Stier offered a similar view.
“I, too, feel that someday I will probably forgive you,” she said. “When? I don’t know.”
While not ready to forgive, the family also extended a hand in kindness: They passed along to Nocito an angel pin, offered by an elderly relative who could not attend, for Pavia’s benefit.
Vough advised Pavia that he should ponder their words and deeds while serving his sentence, working toward being worthy of their forgiveness.
“That’s something you should strive for,” Vough said.
After court, Czerpak admitted she wasn’t sure her son would have agreed with the disposition of the case.
“I would assume my son’s opinion would be harsher,” she said after sentencing. “But we didn’t want this to be going on and dragging on for quite some time. We’ve gone though quite enough in the last five months.”