Thursday, August 30, 2007
The domain name was registered on July 30, 2007, but its first substantive post was today. Oddly, the "administrative contact" listed is Harlow Cuadra.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Joe Kerekes says he wasn't there when Bryan Kocis was murdered. He's said it over and over; he insists that he was at the Fox Ridge Inn sending emails when Kocis died.
His partner and boyfriend Harlow Cuadra... well, Harlow's on his own. But Joe's certain that a close look at the email evidence will demonstrate his own dove-like activities that night.
Trouble is, there's evidence that sure makes it look as if Joe's lying.
Kerekes told the Times Leader that "Cuadra left the motel room at 6:30 p.m. to meet with Kocis. Kerekes stayed at the motel using his laptop computer to access his Yahoo e-mail."
But the Affidavit of Probable Cause (and court testimony) says that the Verizon cell phone Cuadra was using allegedly used to communicate with Kocis made its final call at approx 6:35 p.m. and the call was relayed by a cellular tower few hundred yards from Kocis' house. [Page 14, Paragraph 3 of the Affidavit]
It takes a solid 20 minutes to drive from the Fox Ridge Inn to Back Mountain and Kocis' house. So when did Cuadra really leave? Not 6:30 , that's for certain.
An investigator testified that the night of the murder "Kocis and 'Danny' [that's Cuadra] made arrangements to meet...." Those communications were via emails, and "[t]he last communication occurred around 7:15 p.m." But wait, if Cuadra left Kerekes behind at the motel room with the computer, how was that final 7:15 email sent to Kocis fully 50 minutes after Cuadra supposedly left the motel?
Perhaps Cuadra was on the cellphone, telling Kerekes what to write, you say? No, the cellphone records released so far don't show any calls like that.
There's only one other alternative that fits the facts, especially given what we learned yesterday about the ubiquity of aircard access in the area: it seems clear that the computer—and most probably Joe Kerekes himself—were both in that SUV, alongside Cuadra, as it headed up Back Mountain. How else to explain what has been documented to have transpired?
Right after the murder, "signals from two cell phones registered to Joseph Kerekes were processed through a cellular tower on Country Club Road in Dallas Township , a short distance from the Midland Drive home of Bryan Kocis, state police Cpl. Leo Hannon Jr. [testified].
"Hannon said the calls were made at 8:34 p.m. ...the exact same time firefighters were dispatched to Kocis' home for a fire."
If Joe were at the motel during the time Harlow was visiting Kocis alone, why would two of his cell phones connect to the tower in Back Mountain right after the murder? Was Harlow talking to himself?
In fact, why were those two phones anywhere near the house at 8:34, when Kerekes maintains that Cuadra had arrived at about 7:30, smelled smoke, saw a body, heard a noise and took off back to the motel? That's an hour's worth of slow-motion panic.
Had either been in the vicinity of the motel, one cell phone would have connected through this tower ... far away from Country Club Road:
It’s clear from the evidence that almost none of what Kerekes claims happened that night can possibly be true. And the lies could well spell conviction for the pair of them.
You see, all the lying-to-save-your-own-keister stuff? Oddly, jurors seem to just hate that. Go figure.
- Both PC and KM contributed to this story.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Outside the courtroom last Thursday, accused killer Joe Kerekes told reporters that ‘an expert’ would prove that he was nowhere near Bryan Kocis’ house on the night Kocis died. Presumably, he’s talking about a computer expert to go through the info about who logged in where, for how long, and what they did online at the time.
Kerekes says it was Harlow Cuadra who made the trip to Back Mountain to meet Kocis, alone.
This isn't the first time Kerekes has said that his computer will exonerate him. Last month, he told the Times Leader that email records "will show I was at the [I]nn.”
It will definitely take an expert to prove that; the specifics of this particular gambit are terribly complex. Summoning up the best of our meagre geek skills, here’s what we’ve found out so far....
A call to the Fox Ridge Inn confirms that the motel does not offer Internet access to its guests. That means if Joe wanted to go online, he almost certainly had to connect using the couple’s wireless aircard.
There are three ways that could have happened: either via a local Wi-Fi source, a cellular tower, or through 3G Wireless Broadband.
First, let's talk 3G Wireless Broadband. Only one provider claims to offer access in the Wilkes-Barre region, and that's AT&T. But AT&T doesn't have 3G access coverage in the immediate area of Bryan Kocis' house.
That means that if Joe was in that particular area, the 3G option wouldn't work. See below... the 3G coverage area is shown in blue.
However, take a look at the shades of orange. In those spots, Kerekes could have connected via AT&T's Edge coverage. Told you it was complicated.
Just to make things more interesting, Verizon doesn't offer local broadband access in and around Wilkes-Barre , but they do offer NationalAccess throughout the area, including Kocis' house:
Sprint doesn't provide local wireless broadband access either, but they do offer wireless Internet via their National Network, which also covers the area around the house.
To raise this maneuver’s degree-of-difficulty, there's also a free Wi-Fi Hotspot a few thousand feet from Kocis' front door:
So Joe had a few options if he chose to log-in from, say, the front seat of the SUV in Kocis’ driveway. This information also confirms that Joe could have been just about anywhere when he sent (or received) that fateful Yahoo e-mail shortly before the murder.
The question is whether or not the technology is there for police (or better geeks) to tell us where Joe was.... That is, if it was Joe.
See why the experts get paid good money?
- Both PC and KM contributed to this story.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
The Citizen's Voice is reporting that despite facing murder charges, Joseph Kerekes, 33, appeared upbeat while exiting the courtroom Thursday, his head held high, a pleased expression on his face.
“I just think it’s great the burglary charges were dropped. We didn’t steal anything from that poor man,” he said, commenting on a district judge’s decision to uphold all charges – including homicide, conspiracy, arson, and abuse of corpse – against him and 26-year-old Harlow Cuadra, except for burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary.
While a couple of dropped burglary counts may sound minor in comparison to the litany of other charges the two gay porn actors still face in connection with the murder of gay porn movie producer Bryan Charles Kocis, Kerekes had good reason to rejoice.
Thursday’s preliminary hearing brought the Virginia Beach men, who police say killed the 44-year-old Dallas Township man because he was their rival in the gay pornography industry, one step closer to avoiding the possibility of the death penalty.
For prosecutors to seek the death penalty, one of 18 “aggravating” circumstances must be present, according to Pennsylvania Criminal Code. Most involve more unusual circumstances like torture or the murder of a child. The circumstance most likely to affect the Kocis case is if the defendants are found to have committed the murder “while in the perpetration of felony.”
Prosecutors argue that the defendants slashed and stabbed Kocis to death with the intent to also commit felony robbery, making the death penalty applicable. Prosecutors said a Rolex watch, camera equipment and some business records were stolen.
"If I can get the robbery charges dropped, I think that would take death out of the case," said Bill Ruzzo [above], Cuadra's attorney."
However, the investigators cannot prove that the items stolen from Kocis’ home were part of the motive for the murder, Ruzzo and Frank Nocito, Kerekes’ attorney, argued at the preliminary hearing. The goods could have been taken as an afterthought once the murder had already occurred, they argued.
“The crime here was not a robbery. It was a theft. The thought of the stealing of the goods was done after the murder,” Ruzzo said. “The motive of the murder was the murder. It wasn’t to take a Rolex watch and computer tower.”
And since medical experts testified Kocis was already dead when the killer or killers set his home on fire, the defense attorney will argue the arson charges cannot be used to justify the death penalty either, Ruzzo said.
But the arson could open the door to another aggravating circumstance, Melnick said, which states the death penalty can be sought if the offense “created a grave risk of death to another person.”
In his closing statement at the preliminary hearing Thursday, Melnick referenced the quick response of volunteer firefighters who were put in danger while extinguishing the blaze and, incidentally, preserving the crime scene.
“We’re looking at that right now,” Melnick said.
Here again are the various aggravating and mitigating factors applied to potential death penalty cases in PA.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
To do that, Tupper has the County Clerk of Courts exchange paperwork with the DA’s office. The DA eventually hands up what’s called an Information, detailing to the higher court the charges agreed upon by the Magistrate at the end of the Preliminary Hearing.
The prosecutor has the discretion to drop some (or all) of the charges at this point, if he finds them unsupportable at trial. He can even add charges, but will have to immediately support those extra charges before the eventual trial judge.
No Grand Jury will be convened. This is a direct indictment.
The Defense receives the Information; technically, that receipt constitutes the defendants’ Formal Arraignment*. [See correction at the bottom.]
The trial judge will then declare a period of time during which he or she will entertain pre-trial motions: specific Discovery requests, any motions to suppress improperly acquired evidence, requests to sever the two defendants’ cases, etc. That period is usually 30 days, assuming there are no requests for continuance.
Next stop: the Pre-trial Conference... we’ll detail that when it gets closer.
From a PA lawyerly website: "The next proceeding is the formal arraignment, which may or may not occur before a judge of the court of common pleas. In most counties, no judge is present. The defendant is provided with a copy of the information and advised of his rights, including his rights to file various pretrial pleadings. Generally, the district attorney is not represented at formal arraignment."
Friday, August 24, 2007
Update: Court TV (8:13 pm) - reports an interesting exchange in court yesterday. "An e-mail account registered to Kerekes was accessed shortly before the murder, but [State Trooper] Murphy said he didn't currently have records to show whether the account just remained open or if e-mails were sent.
"'So he could have logged in and walked away to do something else, like walk in a house or commit murder?" Melnick asked.
"'Or he could have been sitting there the whole time?" Kerekes' lawyer, Joe Necito, asked during cross-examination."
There was precious little good news for Harlow Cuadra and Joe Kerekes following a day of testimony in a Pennsylvania courtroom—a day that saw a flood of evidence wash over the pair accused of Bryan Kocis’ murder.
“It sucks. I did not kill that man,” Cuadra said, as he headed back to his cell in the Lackawanna county jail.
Kerekes, who had told reporters he’d have a statement after the hearing, could only mutter, “I was never in that house and we will hire an expert to prove that I was nowhere near that house."
Kerekes has maintained that he was back at the Fox Ridge Inn when the murder was committed, working online. Testimony from a State Police investigator indicates that someone was online using Kerekes’ email account immediately after the murder, but that cellular-tower logs show the web was accessed wirelessly just after the killing... and from very near the victim’s home.
That would place whoever accessed Kerekes' email several miles from the Fox Ridge Inn, and quite some distance from a workable alibi.
Magistrate Tupper did dismiss some charges in the case: charges of burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary will not be pursued because Tupper found that the prosecution did not meet its legal burden on those crimes.
Speaking after the hearing, Cuadra’s attorney tried to put a good face on what was a long day that turned out badly, “I am glad any charge is dismissed,” he said.
Prosecutors say they still have not decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
According to authorities, the accused Virginia Beach couple counted on a lot of things to help them get away with their crimes. Grant Roy testified that the suspects told him that the police wouldn’t be interested in the murder of a gay man.
Apparently, they were wrong.
Likewise, they’d counted on the fire to destroy all evidence of the crime, but, as Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick put it, “the one thing they didn’t have a plan for was the volunteer firefighters. In two minutes, firefighters were on the scene. That’s one thing they didn’t have a plan for.”
Sources: Times Leader, Citizens' Voice, WNEP TV-16
Thursday, August 23, 2007
As of 7:48 Eastern Time, we’re waiting for Joseph Kerekes to make a statement to the press, as he said he would this morning on the way into Magistrate Tupper’s court.
More updates will follow tonight, as events dictate.
Update WNEP TV-16 (11:19 pm) - reports that the most serious charges against two men accused of killing a rival in the gay porn business were forwarded to trial after a hearing in Luzerne County. Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes are accused of murdering Bryan Kocis at his home near Dallas.
As they left the magistrate's office, Cuadra and Kerekes, both of Virginia Beach, maintained their innocence. Kerekes said he can prove he was not at Kocis' house the night of the murder.
"No, I was never in that house and we will hire an expert to prove that I was nowhere near that house," Kerekes said.
Update WNEP TV-16 (11:08 pm) - Live News at 11:00 pm shows video of Harlow Cuadra leaving the hearing and being asked how he felt about being charged for homicide... in which Harlow makes the statement: "It Sucks".
Update: Times Leader (7:27 pm) - is reporting that two Virginia Beach, Va., men will face criminal homicide and related charges in connection to the slaying of local gay porn producer Bryan Kocis in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.
District Judge James E. Tupper held the charges against Harlow Cuadra, 26, and Joseph Kerekes, 33, to court after a two day preliminary hearing.
Update: Citizens' Voice (6:58 pm) - reports that Testimony has concluded in the preliminary hearing to determine if Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes should stand trial for the murder of Bryan Charles Kocis.
Attorneys for both sides are preparing their closing statements.
Update: Times Leader (6:29 pm) - reports that signals from two cell phones registered to Joseph Kerekes were processed through a cellular tower on Country Club Road in Dallas Township, a short distance from the Midland Drive home of Bryan Kocis, state police Cpl. Leo Hannon Jr. said.
Hannon said the calls were made at 8:34 p.m. on Jan. 24, the exact same time firefighters were dispatched to Kocis' home for a fire.
Prosecutors are continuing to present testimony and evidence during the preliminary hearing for Kerekes, 33, and Harlow Cuadra, 26, who are accused in the killing of 44-year old Kocis.
Update: WNEP TV-16 (6:04 pm) - Live 6:00 pm news reports the preliminary hearing is still continuing.
Update: Citizens' Voice (5:47 pm) - reports that State police Cpl. Leo Hannon testified to obtaining receipts showing that Cuadra rented a gray Nissan Xterra in Virginia Beach the day before the murder.
... The vehicle was returned the day after the murder, according to the receipt.
The mileage used on the car was consistent with the distance between Virginia Beach and the Wilkes-Barre area, Hannon testified.
... Hannon [also] testified [that the knife Cuadra and Kerekes bought in Virginia Beach] ... was the type of knife that would be capable of committing Kocis' murder.
Update: Times Leader (5:27 pm) - reports Surveillance videos from a Virginia Beach, Va., pawn shop shows Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes allegedly buying weapons on Jan. 23, a day before Bryan Kocis was killed in Dallas Township.
In one of the videos, Cuadra, 26, and Kerekes, 33, are standing with their backs to the camera looking into a glass display case.
State police Cpl. Leo Hannon Jr. said a receipt - time stamped at 9:44 a.m. on Jan. 23 - was a Smith and Wesson handgun, ammunition and a folding knife with a five-inch blade.
Update: WNEP TV-16 (5:05 pm) - Live 5:00 pm news reports the preliminary hearing is still on-going. Will have a live report from the courthouse as soon as the hearing has ended.
Update: Times Leader (4:25 pm) is reporting that A state police computer forensic examiner said an e-mail registered to Joseph Kerekes was logged onto at 7:43 p.m. on Jan. 24, around the time when a witness saw a light colored sport utility vehicle in the driveway at Bryan Kocis' Dallas Township home.
Trooper Brian Murphy said the e-mail registered to Kerekes, 33, was accessed through a wireless air card registered to Harlow Cuadra.
Kerekes' co-defense lawyer, Joseph Nocito, was able to determine, upon questioning of Murphy, that Kerekes' e-mail was accessed at 7:43 p.m. on Jan. 24.
Kerekes, during a jailhouse interview in July, said he was at the Fox Ridge Inn motel in Plains Township using his e-mail account.
Update: Times Leader (3:58 pm) - reports that A Yahoo! e-mail account set up on Jan. 22 was solely used to communicate with Bryan Kocis, and was last used on Jan. 25, a day after Kocis was found dead inside his Dallas Township home, a state police computer forensic examiner testified.
Trooper Brian Murphy said the dmbottom.com e-mail was used up to three dozen times to communicate with Kocis between Jan. 22 and Jan. 24.
Murphy said he was also able to trace e-mail communications from dmbottom.com through an IP address using a wireless air card beginning on Jan. 23, a day before Kocis was killed.
Update: Citizens' Voice (3:40 pm) - adds that a state police investigator testified Kocis exchanged about three dozen emails from an account with an IP address registered to Cuadra.
Some of the emails included what appeared to be pictures of Cuadra, although the author of the emails identified himself as Danny Moilin.
Through the emails, Kocis and Danny made arrangements to meet the night of the murder, the investigator said. The last communication occurred around 7:15 p.m., about an hour before firefighters responded to a structure fire at Kocis' home and found him inside slashed and stabbed to death.
Police contend Cuadra and Kerekes wanted Kocis killed because he was a rival adult gay film producer and they wished to lure his most popular performer, Sean Lockhart, to their company.
Update: Citizens' Voice (3:15 pm) - reports Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes were in the home of Brian Charles Kocis the night the adult film producer was murdered, a prosecution witness testified during a preliminary hearing today.
Grant Roy, a fellow pornography producer, testified the two Virginia Beach men accused of killing the 44-year-old in January described the inside of Kocis' home and recounted details of hoon the testimony given by Grant Roy.
Update: Times Leader (2:31 pm) - reports that For 1 hour and 16 minutes, Grant Roy testified as a prosecution witness during the preliminary hearing for Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes.
Roy, the first witness to testify on the second day of the hearing, admitted that he knew a conversation he had with Cuadra and Kerekes was being electronically recorded by investigators.
Roy said Cuadra and Kerekes had indicated that authorities wouldn't take the investigation seriously because Kocis was gay.
"They felt...because he (Kocis) was gay, the Dallas Township Police Department would put it on the back burner," Roy testified.
Roy remained composed during his testimony, carefully answering questions from Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, and defense lawyers Frank Nocito and William Ruzzo.
State police Trooper Brian Murphy, a computer forensic examiner, is currently testifying.
Update: From a court-watcher (2:01 pm) - "Defense lawyers are challenging prosecution's refusal to turn over the transcript from the beach conversation. Roy testified on cross-ex that he reviewed the transcript prior to taking the witness stand. Judge is taking a short break to review caselaw on the issue."
Times Leader (1:49 pm) - reports that Roy said Harlow Cuadra, 26, and Joseph Kerekes, 33, inspected Kocis' Midland Drive home before Cuadra arrived for a scheduled meeting with the 44-year old Kocis on Jan. 24.
"...they also made an observation that there was no peep hole in the door so the only way Bryan Kocis could see who was at the front door was to open the front door," Roy testified upon questions by Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick.
Roy said Cuadra claimed he shared a bottle of wine with Kocis. The doorbell rang and Kocis stumbled, Roy said.
"(Cuadra) said he (Kocis) never saw it coming," Roy said.
Roy remains on the witness stand currently being questioned by Kerekes' lawyers, Frank Nocito and Joseph Nocito.
- Both PC and KM contributed to this report.
Update: Times Leader (1:10 pm) - reports "Grant Roy first witness in Cuadra, Kerekes hearing."
Update: Citizens' Voice (12:39 pm) - is reporting "As Kerekes was led into the courtroom today, he told the media he would speak after the hearing. "I have something prepared to say on the way out," he said. Cuadra has yet to arrive in the courtroom.
"Prosecutors are expected to start today by presenting evidence of e-mail communication Cuadra allegedly had with Kocis leading up to his murder"
Update: Times Leader (12:39 pm) - reports "Security is heightened again for the hearing. Luzerne County sheriff deputies are using a hand-held metal detector searching people before they enter the courtroom, and Dallas and Kingston township police departments with a canine unit are monitoring the parking lot.
"A key witness from out-of-the area was observed walking into the building earlier.
"It remains unknown if assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick and Tim Doherty will play a recording of a conversation Cuadra and Kerekes allegedly had with Grant Roy and Sean Lockhart on a nude beach near San Diego, Ca., in late April."
WNEP TV-16 (12:02 pm) - Live Noon news reports the preliminary hearing began a few minutes ago. No new video as of yet, though.
Times Leader (8:21 am) - reports that "Luzerne County prosecutors will continue today to try to persuade a magisterial district judge that they have a strong case against two men charged in connection with the slaying of local gay film producer Bryan Kocis.
"A state police computer forensic investigator is one of several witnesses that prosecutors expect to call to the stand when the preliminary hearing for Harlow Cuadra, 26, and Joseph Kerekes, 33, resumes before District Judge James E. Tupper in Kingston Township.
"Cuadra’s co-defense lawyer, Thomas S. Cometa, aggressively questioned Jarocha for nearly an hour on Monday, getting Jarocha to admit that he didn’t take any samples from the hardwood floor in the living room.
"Cometa, in an unrelated case, was successful in defending a man who was accused of setting a fire that killed his parents in Berks County. Cometa used samples of hardwood flooring from the Berks County home that had traces of leaded gasoline, which was used at that time to clean hardwood floors after construction. A dropped cigarette caused the Berks County fatal fire, according to published reports.
"Kocis’ home was demolished last week. Cometa couldn’t be reached for comment to determine if any hardwood flooring from Kocis’ living room has been preserved.
"Jarocha said he found no evidence that Kocis was a smoker."
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
By all accounts, the Commonwealth intends to present some of the more tech-heavy, Internet evidence in tomorrow’s extended preliminary hearing of accused killers Harlow Cuadra and Joe Kerekes. And, no doubt, there will be other sorts of evidence exhibited, too.
But what’s been most interesting so far is-- while the DA’s office appears to be putting on quite a show for Magistrate Tupper-- the case as presented has been remarkably short on specifics.
For example, according to published reports and those of court-watchers:
-Of the nearly dozen witnesses, there hasn’t been a single cop on the stand. Among other things, that means no evidence presented of anything found pursuant to search warrants for Harlow’s and Joe’s house.
-There was no testimony about the purchase of the knife in Virginia Beach.
-Three witnesses spoke about the SUV in Dallas, but no one was there to link Harlow and Joe to its rental in Virginia Beach—or to testify to the mileage that indicates they drove it far enough to reach the Wyoming Valley.
-The SUV was alleged to have left the scene just a few minutes before the fire department arrived at the house. And when the firefighters did show up, flames were actually shooting out the front door. No word, however, on who called 911, and more to the point: when, and/or why? Because a neighbor saw smoke sometime around 8:15? We don’t know, because the State hasn’t told us.
-We still don’t know the name of “Confidential Informant #1” (re: p. 16, Affidavit of Probable Cause), the one who told police Cuadra and Kerekes were “planning something big,” and were taking a trip to Pennsylvania. (By his testimony, it appears that Justin Hainesly is known as CI #2 in that document. See P. 19.)
In all, the ADAs still have a-ways to go. We'll be watching, of course.-Both PC and KM contributed to this story.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
"Kocis’ father, Michael, testified Kocis was an intensely private person who would not have let anyone come to his home unexpectedly. Even he and his wife had to call ahead before visiting, Michael Kocis said.
"Flanked by state troopers and dressed in the green jumpsuit of the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, Kerekes smiled as he left court, sounding unconcerned.
"Cuadra emerged minutes later wearing tan prison garbs because he is being housed apart from his alleged accomplice in Lackawanna County prison.
"He made no comment before disappearing into a police car.
"On Thursday, prosecutors will start by presenting evidence of e-mail communication Cuadra allegedly had with Kocis leading up to his murder.'We have a lot more interesting things to come,' lead prosecutor Michael Melnick said.
The latest Times Leader article on the hearing includes:
“Robert Wagner, who identified himself as Kocis’ best friend, testified that Kocis had e-mailed him pictures of a prospective new model for Cobra Video on Jan. 22. The picture was of Cuadra. Investigators suspect the photo was sent to Kocis under a fake name.
“’He told me he was meeting a new model at 7 p.m. on (Jan. 24),’ Wagner testified.
“Wagner described Kocis as a private person who wouldn’t answer his front door if someone unexpectedly stopped by. Wagner also testified that after Kocis died, he discovered two laptop computers, two computer towers, two camcorders and a Rolex watch were missing from the home.
“Investigators wouldn’t say if the missing computers or the watch were found during two searches at Cuadra’s and Kerekes’ Virginia Beach home.”
Also: “State police Deputy Fire Marshal Ron Jarocha said the fire began behind a leather loveseat in the living room. Jarocha also said two smoke alarms were detached from the ceilings inside the home.
“‘An open flame was used to ignite combustible material behind the couch,’ Jarocha said.
Apparently there was no talk of use of any accelerant in starting of the fire.
Q: At what point does the DA usually announce whether he'll seek the death penalty?
A: Out of this hearing, the Magistrate will decide what charges have been supported by prima facie. If Premeditated Murder is one of those supported charges, then the DA can announce his plans vis a vis the Death Penalty at anytime after that-- it's a strategic thing.
Q: ...is the kingston township court the same as luzerne county court?
A: Not exactly. The Magistrate in Kingston will decide at the end of the prelim whether or not the case shall proceed to the PA Court of Common Pleas (where the trial would take place). A trial judge would then be assigned.
Q: I'm sure the defense would have liked to object [to Hainsely's testimony] (and probably did), but the fact it got in during this prelim tells me it was and will be admissible. [Right?]
A: Different judges may decide differently; the trial judge could easily toss out Hainsley's testimony if he thinks it's hearsay. Remember, a Magistrate in PA is terribly minor functionary. As I said once before, he literallly handles cases of spitting on the sidewalk. (I saw a friend ticketed for that once. The ticket was a Magistrate's summons. No fooling.) He generally does not put boldly put his stamp on a case. That's what Common Pleas judges are for.
Q: ...[with] no hope for acquittal. Their attorney might try to convience them [not to plead guilty. Am I correct?]
A: More often it's the other way around: counsel says plead out, but the defendant refuses.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Note: The following entries were blogged live and in real time. Therefore, some links still work, and some now redirect to later updates (at the behest of the media source). We strove to quote the relevant bits in each live entry, as it was presented.
-Both PC and KM contributed to this report.
UPDATE: The Times Leader ( 5:33 pm) -- is reporting Luzerne County Coroner Dr. Jack Consalvo, chief deputy coroner Bill Lisman, state police fire marshal Ron Jarocha, and a former employee of the two men, Justin Hensley, were among those who testified today.
UPDATE: WNEP TV-16 Live Broadcast (5:01 pm) -- reports that Kocis' family sobbed during some of the testimony. The Fire Chief testified that they saw flames shooting from the front porch when they arrived. The hearing is continued to Thursday afternoon.
UPDATE: Citizen's Voice ( 4:40 pm) -- Prelim to continue Thursday for Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes.
UPDATE: Citizen's Voice ( 2:00 pm) -- Reports that more than 80 percent of Kocis' body was covered by third-degree burns.
A resident of Midland Drive, where Kocis lived, testified he noticed an SUV in Kocis' driveway shortly before the murder. James Gilbert said he saw the silver SUV parked outside Kocis' garage less than an hour before firefighters responded to the burning home.
Another witness testified she was visiting Kocis' next-door neighbor on the night of the murder. Amy Zamerowski said she saw a light-colored SUV backing out of Kocis' driveway around 8:30 p.m. Firefighters arrived less than 10 minutes later, she said.
A hotel manager at Fox Ridge Inn in Plains Township took the stand and produced a registration slip showing a Joe Kerekes stayed at the hotel around the time of the murder.
UPDATE: WNEP TV-16 Live Broadcast (12:02 pm) – Reports that an as yet unidentified ‘associate’ of Harlow and Joe [said by the CV to be former roomate Justin Hainsley] testified that the pair told him before the killing that they wanted to hire a big name porn-star away from Kocis. The witness further testified that after the murder, Harlow and Joe denied killing Kocis, but didn't want to discuss the topic in any detail.
It's expected to be a very long preliminary hearing due to a lot of evidence. The large number of scheduled witnesses is expected to push the hearing at least into a second day.
Citizens' Voice (11:42 am) -- Medical Examiners testify to "Near Decapitation":
"More than a dozen graphic pictures of Kocis' badly burned body were presented at today's hearing, which is expected to last several days before Magisterial District Judge James Tupper. Two medical examiners testified the cause of death was a near decapitation.
"'We were able to ascertain it was a smooth cutting, probably one swipe," Luzerne County Coroner Dr. John Consalvo testified. "It was a very sharp object.'"
Also new info: Some of Kocis' post-mortem wounds were said to be to the "groin area."
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Their agent is a lady named Kelley Bass with Realty Executives Virginia Beach:
We’ve already talked about what’s likely to happen in court. Here’s what’s likely to happen here on this blog: We will do our best to present information that’s true, relevant and timely.
That word ‘true’ is first, because we’d rather post some snippet of info days after everyone else already has... if that’s how long it takes us to verify the truth of it.
Blogs are different than other media. At a newspaper, the people who put together the editorial page are set apart from the people who just gather and present facts. Here, there is no such firewall. And that means that part of what we do all day is gather facts, analyze information, form opinions, test them out, then present the results to you.
Whether you find veracity in our opinions depends on how much truth you find in our facts. If you can’t grant credibility to this blog when it reports facts, then necessarily you cannot find insight in our opinions.
We strive to perform both functions well, because opinions without truths are worthless. Likewise, truths without analysis are merely stale anecdotes.
So that’s what we seek to do here. We want to tell the truth as quickly as it can be discerned. We’re confident that that’s what our readers want. That’s what we’ve tried to do up to now. It’s what we intend to do tomorrow and all the days after that.
Our stories might not be scoops, but they will be as true as we can make them.
-Both PC and KM contributed to this story.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
"DALLAS TWP. — Soon, the home where Bryan Charles Kocis built his multi-million dollar pornography business — and later met his violent demise — will be nothing more than patch of dirt on a grassy knoll.
"The half-charred home, guarded by no trespassing signs and crime scene tape, had been a haunting sight for residents of Midland Drive, a constant reminder of the night seven months ago police found the 44-year-old slashed and stabbed to death inside the burning home."
"Until about 9 a.m. Friday when a demolition team arrived, that is."
Friday, August 17, 2007
Both Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes have been given their 1028 Stratem Court residence back from the Commonwealth of Virginia - due to lack of equity. Is this a blessing for Harlow and Joe... just another burden... or do we even care?
The reason I ask is because real estate prices, and sales have dropped significantly since the duo bought the 'love shack' back in October 2005:
The current assessed value of the residence is around $542,000. Sounds great since they only owe around $530,000 right? It could be an easy $12,000 or more for attorney fees some will exclaim. Well probably not.
Let's take a look at the last 3 homes that have sold in the very same neighborhood:
1021 Stratem Court was assessed at $494,500 - sold for $480,000
1000 Stratem Court was assessed for $215,000 - sold for $512,000 ( The original assessment was for land only, then a brand new house was built, and the land value still dropped $35,000 )
1025 Stratem Court was assessed at $514,500 - sold for $469,000
Additional homes that were bought and their assessments:
1005 Stratem Court was sold for $534,000 on 8-17-05 and is now assessed for $498,500 for fiscal year 2008 - down from the $542,000 for fiscal year 2007.
1009 Stratem Court was sold for $545,000 on 02/07/06 and is now assessed for $520,500 for fiscal year 2008 - down from the $546,400 for fiscal year 2007
There is a brand new house for sale in the neighborhood ... asking price is $489,900.
I don't know about you... but there seems to be a pattern here. If it can be sold for more than what's owed... good job indeed.
The house is not currently listed in the MLS, but there have been rumors that a private buyer is interested. Guess we'll see.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Some of them tell you what a wonderfully incisive mind you have. Others let you know just what brand of idiot you are. It’s a little distressing when there are more of the latter— and they’re better-composed.
But there’s another kind message, too. They're the information-over-the-transom missives... emails full of ‘news’ that may or may not be true, that no one can verify, but is titillating as all hell. With abundant apologies to Thoreau, it seems that some readers lead lives of quiet, desperate speculation. Some less quiet than others.
Here's what we've been hearing:
Claim: Sean Lockhart will not testify in Luzerne county because he has an irrational fear of the place, born from the horrors inflicted upon him there. He’d rather go to jail for contempt than set foot in the Wyoming Valley.
Status: Undetermined. While it wouldn’t be completely crazy for Lockhart to be a little skittish about the place, one would imagine he’d be more skittish about a contempt citation.
Status: Undetermined. But by now, who cares? Can someone sharpen a stake to properly dispatch the damned house story? If we ever have to puzzle over land records again, it will be too soon. Sell it, don't sell it, raze it to the ground, who cares?
Claim: Joe and Harlow are making plans to be able to talk to one another by calling a third party who’s secretly set up a conference call (AKA 3-way calling.)
Status: Undetermined. The reputed plan is technically possible, according to the nice lady who answers phones for Verizon Call Services. But, since inmate calls are monitored, one has to ask what they’d hope to communicate? Maybe just to say, “I miss you.” Or, more probably: “Quit digging our graves with that blog of yours, smart guy.”
Claim: Some guys started a rumor that the Cobra master tapes weren’t destroyed, after all. But it was all a total lie... the ‘destroyed’ part was a lie, I mean.
Status: Undetermined (and stupid). This one doesn’t even come with a reason either attached, or implicit. It’s a rumor about a rumor, which brings us to the ever-popular...
Claim: I really know something that you don’t know—something that nobody else knows—but I cant tell what it is... well, not yet, because I’m just too close to this, and the Big Boys wouldn’t like it. Let me tell you, though, this is real inside, explosive stuff and it will all come out into the open soon. You'll see! And, dude, you’re going to be shocked, because it’s gonna turn this whole story on its head. I swear.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The Cuadra/Kerekes partisans seized upon that statement almost as madly as did the anti-Lockhart/Roy forces. Why ever did Lupas say such a thing? Who is he really talking to? Was there a third man at the murder scene? Are Sean and Grant still in danger of prosecution?
That simple utterance certainly fires the imagination of the conspiracy-minded. Any number of possible scenarios flash before us to explain it, and while the well-trafficked ones are properly incendiary, others are more pedestrian.
Perhaps a reluctant witness needed a shove to start (or continue) cooperating. It’s conceivable that Lupas just misspoke; it happens, even in front of reporters, trust me. And at the edges of possibility (and, admittedly, slouching toward a TV reality): it could be that there’s a detective or investigator with an oddball theory of the crime who’s being humored.
Or maybe Lupas was just demonstrating the power of his office. In the weeks leading up to a criminal trial, the one person who has the most to say about a defendant’s fate is the DA.
The Legal Television Network explains.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
In covering a trial, the demon Media are variously blamed for every manner of queering of every possible pitch.
Well... does the Media cause actual harm to juridical procedure, or not? We might be tempted to set aside the question, if only because, frankly, it’s not as if the Press is going to stop covering the legal process anytime soon. We can argue it another day, surely.
No, let’s look at it today. Do they, or don't they? Or is it more relevant how the lawyers for the principals handle the media attention? That is, local attention which is relatively acute in this case.
If Harlow Cuadra and Joe Kerekes were a whole lot richer, they’d have a high-priced trial consulting firm working for the Defense. In this instance, they won’t have that, but that doesn’t mean that the accused pair’s lawyers don’t already know what the consultants are likely to say about the manic coverage the case will almost certainly receive.
From the website of one of those fancy firms, an outfit called Decision Points, comes a pithy hypothetical: “What do you do when there is a negative front page story about your client on the morning of jury selection?”
The answer may surprise you. ‘Bad’ publicity may actually help both sides seat their idea of an ‘unbiased’ jury.
With research, the consultants found that “the jurors most likely to be predisposed against us were also the ones most likely to have read the bad publicity. And these same jurors tended to become more inflamed by the article and more likely to express these inflamed opinions to the court.”
An 'inflamed' potential juror is one who's easy to spot, and can be readily dismissed for cause.
Yep. That continual ‘stirring the pot’ for which the Media takes so much guff can actually help secure defendants’ Constitutional right to a fair trial. The pricey experts say so.
Monday, August 13, 2007
In any trial, evidence is conveyed to the jury via the witnesses.
That is, conveyed via the ‘credible witnesses. But how do we spot those?
Well, first we look at the basics of what makes the perfect credible witness. It’s someone who is competent to give the evidence they’re giving; someone who’s capable of knowing what he’s testifying to; who was actually present wherever the thing happened; who paid enough attention give a good account of what happened, and; someone who will honestly present the information fully, without any reason to subtract from, or add to the truth.
In other words, a perfectly credible witness someone who’s not out to deceive, correctly perceives all things observed, has no bias, forgets nothing, and does not make mistakes.
There is no such thing as a perfectly credible witness.
All witnesses come with baggage: the cop with an excessive force complaint in his past; the hooker who was high when she saw the crime; the accused murderer’s ex-wife with an ax to grind.
Okay then, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that evidence is conveyed by the witnesses whose testimony the jury actually believes— the somewhat credible witnesses.
Those ‘somewhats’ abound in the Cuadra/Kerekes case, with some ‘somewhats’ more credible than others.
During the Commonwealth’s case, Harlow and Joe's attorneys will cross-examine not just on facts, but in attempts to undermine or impeach the credibility and reliability of every prosecution witness.
They’ll try to show that the witness is biased against Harlow and Joe. They’ll suggest that some have a financial or personal stake in the outcome of the trial. The defense will also interrogate witnesses about any past felony convictions or about any past crimes that involved dishonesty.
The District Attorney can (and almost certainly will) raise objections to many of the credibility questions posed by the defense. The judge will rule on an ongoing basis—sometime in favor, sometimes against— over and over again. And as soon as the prosecutor is done with his case... he'll turn right around and heap similar calumny upon every single defense witness who takes the stand. It’s the nature of the process.
Juries are fickle creatures, but not altogether unreasonable. They tend not to believe every little thing that an individual witness says. They often believe almost none of what one guy says and then most of what the next guy says. There are instances where the jury doesn’t fully believe anything that anybody has said... but the point is, they do seek to piece things together from the competing versions of what happened. They’re willing to choose the relatively more-credible of two stories, even when neither tale sounds all that objectively credible.
So what is a credible witness? It’s the guy who you believe slightly more than the guy who says that the other guy has it all wrong.
- Both PC & KM contributed to this story.
Nightcharm has a body-count. (Link is not safe for work, and yeah, the story contains a few glaring errors of fact. Still, it's worth a read.)
Sunday, August 12, 2007
The paper’s Sunday edition quotes a lawyer from the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney’s office: “This is all stuff we seized in accordance to our criminal investigation here,” said [Senior Assistant] Scott Alleman, the attorney who prosecuted the forfeiture case.”
Cuadra’s lawyer was also questioned regarding the house at 1028 Stratem Court: “It’s unknown how much, if any, profit the two could get for their home, but it will be better than nothing, said Cuadra’s attorney Scott Flax, of Virginia Beach, who handled the forfeiture process.“It helps,” he said. “They’ll have an asset to sell to get some money.”
Alleman disagrees, indicating that “the duo was given back possession of their home’s title because it would have been an expensive and lengthy process to take it and there was a hefty mortgage left to pay."
Asked about the so-called conspiracy to deny Cuadra and Kerekes money to retain lawyers in their murder case, Alleman flatly denied it.
“The reason we didn’t file charges in Virginia is because the murder in Pennsylvania took precedent. We didn’t want to get in the way of Pennsylvania,” he said.
There’s no word on whether those Virginia charges are just on hold, or whether they won’t be pursued at all.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
But your comments have shown that there are still questions about procedure and outcomes, so... here’s more info.
What the prosecution wants: for the case to proceed. The prelim takes place in front of a magistrate. He or she is a low-level judge; the kind of judge who literally fines people for spitting on the sidewalk. Magistrates don’t try felonies. What they do is act as gatekeepers to the Court of Common Pleas (that does adjudicate serious cases). The magistrate is there to decide whether or not the State has enough evidence to take the case higher in the system.
To take the case higher, the prosecution must satisfy the magistrate (Mr. Tupper, in this instance) that they have a prima facie case against Messers. Cuadra and Kerekes.
So what’s that mean? Well...“in other words, present evidence that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is probably the perpetrator of that crime.”
What actually happens in court during a prelim? Harlow and Joe will be there with their lawyers. An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) will be there. The ADA will introduce the criminal complaint, and call a short list of witnesses to support the claims in the complaint, as well as whatever other essential evidence has been uncovered since the complaint was filed.
The witnesses will mostly be state troopers, somebody from the coroner’s office and perhaps an evidence technician or two.
Very occasionally, Harlow’s and/or Joe’s lawyers will object to the form of a question that’s put to a witness. The ADA will rephrase; they will continue. In all, it’s a pretty dull date; bring kettle corn.
What the defense wants: failing dismisssal, more info on the State's case, please. That's what’s important. The prelim is the first time anybody gets to see the thrust of the prosecution’s case. Understand, the prosecution doesn’t have to unveil every last bit of evidence it has—far from it—but we will almost certainly hear evidence presented at the prelim that has not been released thus far. The defense will object to some of that evidence, but the magistrate is likely to leave any suppression issue to the trial judge's discretion.
The hearing ends when both arguments are finished and the magistrate rules: either we’re one step closer to trial (meaning the prima facie case was demonstrated) or the State sends Harlow and Joe home with the apologies of the court. From what we’ve seen of the case so far, it’s pretty clear which way this one’s going to go.
Friday, August 10, 2007
For criminal cases, all state governments have agreements that may make subpoenas for appearances binding on residents. In California , the Pennsylvania court must certify to the local courts that a person in California is a material witness in a criminal case. The California court then holds a hearing to determine if the subpoenaed person is a material witness and that the witness will not suffer an undue hardship by appearing in the out-of-state court.
Undue Hardship in California basically means the person must be very ill or in the hospital, 65 years of age or older, a dependent adult, or his life is in jeopardy. If the witness meets any of these criteria, he may apply for an order that the witness be examined conditionally, meaning in California . Prosecutors from Pennsylvania can ask for that, too.
It's unlikely California would reject PA's request, since judges do realize that, while today Pennsylvania might be the ones who've come a-calling for a recalcitrant Californian witness, on another day California will certainly go a-courting in PA, looking for one of their timorous witnesses. It's rather like extradition: if one state denies another today, tomorrow they might well find themselves denied-- oftentimes out of spite. Funny how the grand, legal patriarchs of the several states are a lot like kindergartners isn't it?
-Both PC and KM contributed to this story.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
A video from the Criminal Justice channel has some basic information. But what makes a proper plea bargain? Well, it has two parts: the information and the waiver. Both are required.
First, the client has to know what he’s doing. He has to be represented by counsel, and has to be informed of all the consequences incumbent with his plea.
Next, he has to voluntarily waive certain of his rights. In effect, a plea bargain is like a supercharged version of that Miranda waiver that police try to get bad guys to sign so that they might be questioned. Only in this instance, the defendant is essentially waiving his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in toto.
If proof of one of the two elements is missing, the judge will throw out the plea deal. That’s right, before it’s done, the whole thing has to go before the trial judge to get him or her to sign off. The judge is under no legal compulsion to agree to the deal.
In practice, however, plea agreements are seldom invalidated by the bench. The agreements do get breeched from time to time—usually because prosecutors find out that the defendant lied about something during the course of plea negotiations.
Now, there is also a special sort of guilty plea that pops up very rarely: the Alford plea. That’s a plain, old guilty plea with a twist: the defendant does not admit guilt. In all other ways— in sentencing, as a record of previous bad acts in subsequent trials, as a criminal step toward Habitual Offender status— the Alford plea is just like a standard guilty plea. It's also peculiar and passingly infrequent.
Finally, there’s the plea that uniquely splits the difference between guilty and not guilty: No contest (AKA nolo contendere, among the guys who took Latin in prep school to boost their SAT Verbals.)
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
At the time of that earlier story, there were angry denials from Cuadra’s former ‘bloggist,’ but today a new spokesperson for Cuadra posted the following to HarlowCuadraOnline.com: “The Document for them [Cuadra and Kerekes] to get the house has been signed by both Harlow and Joe, but needless to say they are loosing [sic.] all of there [sic.] other property to get back this one thing, the state refused to give them back anything else....
“We will hope that the house will sell for something to help pay anything to the attorneys, anything is better then nothing!”
As we reported in July, the house may indeed be worth less than nothing. Publicly available credit records show that, as of now, Harlow and Joe owe approximately $533,400 in primary and second mortgages on the 1028 Stratem Court property. Those records also indicate that primary mortgage payment is 30 days past due, while the second mortgage payment is 60 days overdue.
Clearly, only a quick sale at a premium price will turn the house from a liability to an asset. That’s why the house was to be returned, according to law enforcement sources, speaking last month on condition of anonymity— there is “little, to no equity” in it.
In today’s long statement, the Harlow camp makes other remarkable comments, as well, including sharp criticisms leveled at Virginia authorities for their handling of the forfeiture case, and another utterly outrageous allegation: that the incomplete forfeiture proceedings led to a Catch 22 wherein Harlow and Joe were somehow adjudged too wealthy to qualify for public defenders in the murder case in Pennsylvania, yet still had all of their assets in state hands in Virginia, thus unavailable for use retaining private counsel.
That latter charge of denial of counsel is a serious one— as such a combined action by the Commonwealths of Pennsylvania and Virginia would be, of course, in total contravention of all court rules, procedures, laws and Constitutional precepts. Such a move by the State—on its own— could constitute reversible error in the Pennsylvania prosecution.
In fact, the ‘Angel’s’ allegation describes a move so extreme and so far outside of ordinary legal practice that one is perhaps excused for wondering if he or she is not somehow mistaken about it.
-Both PC and KM contributed to this story.