Thursday, February 21, 2008

Representation of Kocis Death Co-Defendants an Issue

The Times Leader is reporting Joseph Kerekes apparently had some concerns – at least for a while – with attorney Demetrius Fannick defending a co-defendant.

Kerekes and co-defendant Harlow Cuadra were in court Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing.

It was the first court hearing for the two since Fannick was hired to defend Cuadra. But that hiring came after Fannick had been talking with Kerekes.

Kerekes appeared to take issue with the switch Wednesday. As soon as Fannick walked into court, Kerekes asked Fannick to speak with him. But Fannick couldn’t.

Kerekes yelled that he didn’t want Fannick involved in the case if he was going to use anything they had spoken about.

“Harlow won’t roll on me,” Kerekes said.

Deputy sheriffs and one of his attorneys, John Pike, later spoke with Kerekes. And he appeared calm when a judge later discussed the issue.

The outburst wasn’t the only issue created Wednesday by Fannick’s involvement in the case.

Attorneys for both suspects filed some pre-trial motions in the case. Wednesday’s hearing was to discuss two of those requests filed by Kerekes: one to have the charges thrown out for a lack of evidence and the other to make prosecutors reveal whether they think Kerekes was the principal killer.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Melnick said he needed to call an additional witness to address the lack-of-evidence issue. But because doing that would require Fannick to cross-examine the witness, Melnick wanted to wait until the judge ruled on whether Fannick will be allowed to represent Cuadra before having that hearing.

Melnick and his team of prosecutors are trying to have Fannick disqualified from the case because his past discussions with Kerekes create a conflict of interest, they said.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said he will first decide that issue before ruling on the evidence issue.

Fannick has to file a response to Melnick’s motion by Feb. 29. The judge also wants Kerekes’ attorneys to determine if an actual or potential conflict exists with Fannick’s representation of Cuadra, whether Kerekes can waive that conflict, and, if he can, will he waive it. That, too, has to be filed by Feb. 29. A hearing on the issue is set for 8:30 a.m. March 5.

Olszewski also said he will issue a ruling on whether prosecutors have to reveal if Kerekes was the principal killer soon.


Meanwhile, the Citizen's Voice also covers the story and adds:

Kerekes’ attorneys argued in prior motions prosecutors must say whether they believe their client is just an accomplice in the murder. If he was just an accomplice, prosecutors cannot pursue the death penalty, Kerekes’ conflict counsel John Pike, Mark Bufalino and Shelly Centini said.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Melnick said the commonwealth would be “in a box” if it disclosed one theory about the murder at this stage and it turned out to be incorrect.

“That has had catastrophic impact” on prosecution cases in the past, he said.

Olszewski wouldn’t allow Cuadra’s former attorneys to step down until the issue over potential conflict with Fannick is resolved. Fannick took over as Cuadra’s counsel Jan. 28 for conflict counsel Stephen Menn, Michael Senape and Paul Galante.