The six jurors returned a split verdict, acquitting Lopicola of a charge of having oral sex with a 15-year-old, but finding him guilty of using text messages to solicit sex from the teen. The jury also convicted him on one count of computer pornography and child exploitation.
Judge Barry Cohen set sentencing for Dec. 6. Lopicola, 43, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison or as little as 34 months. He will remain in custody at Palm Beach County Jail.
He also continues to be charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor, in a separate case involving a 17-year-old victim. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Lopicola, who worked at WPTV-Ch. 5 in West Palm Beach until his sudden exit in 2006, testified Thursday he never met his teen accuser and was humiliated by the allegations and media attention on his case.
He said being back before the cameras in these circumstances was "a terrible feeling."
"I'm on trial," said Lopicola, a Wilton Manors resident at the time of his July 2012 arrest. "My entire future is on the line right now."
He denied meeting his accuser for oral sex in October 2010, and explained hundreds of sexually explicit text messages he sent to the boy in the following months were just "fantasy fun" and not real — "that's like my fetish."
But state prosecutor Michael Kugler blasted Lopicola's nearly two-hour appearance on the stand, telling the jurors Lopicola leaned on his skilled on-air experience to woo them: "He really tried to schmooze you."
"He had the gall to get up on the stand and tell you it's all harmless," Kugler said during his rebuttal to the defense's praise of Lopicola's "genuine" testimony. "This is a defendant who is absolutely reckless."
Prosecutors Kugler and Jessica Kahn say Lopicola knew the teen he met through a Craigslist classified ad was underage and not 18 as advertised, but even if he didn't know, it's a crime.
"Whether he knew he was 15 or not, he's guilty," Kahn said in her closing argument.
But the defense argued there's no evidence linking the pair to any sexual activity, and Lopicola's young accuser set him up by encouraging Lopicola's sexting.
Assistant Public Defender Kristy Militello said the teen lied during his testimony on Wednesday and emphasized her client was "in a fantasy world" with all of his texts. And the texting wasn't a crime because Lopicola thought the accuser was 18, she said.
Lopicola "thinks it's role playing, it's fake," Militello said, criticizing the teen for deleting all of the suggestive texts he sent to Lopicola.
The Sun Sentinel is not identifying the teen because of his age during the incidents and the nature of the charges.
Lopicola testified extensively about his preference for dating much younger men, his frequent use of texting for sexual gratification, and his recovery from an alcohol addiction.
"I do like young guys," he said. "I like them slim, lean. I'm gay."
But Lopicola insisted that he never saw the alleged victim in person until he walked into the courtroom. He said he believed the accuser was simply pretending to be younger than 18 in the text messages for the purposes of a pretend relationship.
"It's just crazy, random, dirty, sexual texting," he said. "It's just extreme behaviors."
Lopicola said none of the texting translated into reality. He called it a "pornographic movie in text messages."
The accuser, now 18 and attending school in Georgia, testified Lopicola picked him up and performed oral sex on him inside Lopicola's car on one occasion. The teen also said that after he moved to Michigan in late 2010, he texted Lopicola and the two exchanged hundreds of texts.
"I was just really lonely," the teen said of the "sexting." He denied the defense claim that he wanted to ensnare Lopicola in a "To Catch a Predator"-style investigation like the Dateline NBC program.
A weekend forecaster for nearly eight years, Lopicola covered the region's biggest weather events in the past decade, including hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma in 2004 and 2005.
"I have spoken in front of a lot of people when I was a weatherman," Lopicola, whose reasons for resigning from the station were never explained, told the jury. "I'd get a little nervous — but this is a terrible feeling."
He was working at Boardwalk Bar, a gay strip club in Fort Lauderdale, before his arrest on both cases.
The second case involves a former West Palm Beach teenager and alleged oral sex episodes in December 2010 and January 2011. Lopicola testified Thursday that they met through Craigslist.
The young man, now 20, also testified Wednesday — over the defense's objection — about his final encounter with Lopicola in April 2011. The Sun Sentinel is also not identifying this accuser.
The teen, then a high school junior, told police the two traded texts, some of which contained naked photos of Lopicola's chest and genitals, according to a police report. Lopicola said he thought the teen was 19.
They were about to have oral sex in the teen's home when the accuser's mother arrived, discovered Lopicola hiding in her shower, and called police.
"I felt like an idiot," Lopicola said. "I'm a 40-year-old man standing in this guy's shower."
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