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.