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Suspect found guilty in absentia

Dexter T. Walker failed to show up Thursday as a jury found him guilty of stealing $100 from the wallet of a Toronto kindergarten teacher at an airport hotel. As a result, he is likely to be facing a longer prison term when he is captured, court officials and prosecutors said.

He's also out the $12,000 in bail he posted to remain free for the two-day jury trial.

Walker, 27, of Germain Street, who had been present during the trial, was found guilty as charged on grand larceny and marijuana possession for the July 28, 2007 incident.

Erie County Judge Michael Pietruszka issued a bench warrant moments after a jury of nine men and three women returned the verdict.

Walker had been arrested at the Best Western Hotel at 4630 Genesee St. shortly after the 6:30 p.m. theft of a wallet that the victim left on the front counter after checking in.

Pietruszka said the conviction in absentia was the first he has presided over in two decades on the bench.

Paul Piotrowski, Walker's attorney, told the judge he had repeatedly tried to contact his client by cell phone after being advised the jury had reached a verdict about 1 p.m. after about 60 minutes of deliberations.

Prosecutor Lauren Nash said Walker now faces a two- to four-year prison term on the grand larceny conviction and could be facing an additional four-year prison term on felony bail-jumping charges. At the prosecutor's request, Pietruszka ordered that Walker be held without bail once he is captured. The judge noted that Walker had signed a court document 12 months ago acknowledging that he knew his trial could continue in his absence.

Nash, the prosecutor, said the theft victim, whom she refused to identify, had checked into the airport hotel and inadvertently left her wallet on the counter.

The wallet was recovered, minus her $100, in the parking lot of a nearby restaurant, the prosecutor said.

Walker, who had checked into the hotel for the night, was arrested shortly after the wallet was recovered. The victim's money -- four $20s and two $10s -- was found in his pocket, the prosecutor noted.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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