Sunday, February 24, 2008

Witness Testimony At The Preliminary Hearing (Day 1)

Though the Preliminary Hearing happened several months ago, we never really got a good look as to what was said during testimony. The newspapers only offered snippets, and Harlow's blog obmitted some information.

Since these same witnesses will be testifying at the trial(s) (when ever that happens), I thought it would be good to post a summary of what was said and add a permalink to it on the right-hand side under "Useful Trial Resources". You'll certainly notice lots of previously known information, but I think you'll easily find some 'new' stuff too.

The following witnesses testified as to the aforementioned offense at the preliminary hearing against Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes: Luzerne County Deputy Coroner William Lisman, Luzerne County Coroner Dr. John Consalvo, Justin Hensley, Thakor Patel, James Gilbert, Amy Zamerowski, Dallas Township Fire Department Chief Harry Vivian, Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshall Ronald Jarocha, Thomas Baker, Michael Kocis, Robert Wagner, Grant Roy, Pennsylvania State Trooper Brian Murphy, and Cpl. Leo Hannon. A summary of the witness' testimony taken from the transcripts follows:

Deputy Coroner William Lisman testified that he recieved a telephone call from the 911 Communication Center on the evening in question to respond to Midland Drive in Dallas, PA. He further testified that he was asked to examine a body that was badly burned and which was later identified as the deceased Bryan Kocis. Mr. Lisman further described a frothy, bubbly are of fluid common to fire victims due to super heating of the fluid in the body, however, in Mr. Kocis' case, the frothy, bubbly fluid was occuring around his neck. Mr. Lisman also testified that upon a closer view of the deceased, he viewed what he believed to be stab wounds on the victim's chest and a laceration to the victim's neck.

Mr. Lisman further testified that the body was badly burned and it was not readily identifiable. He stated that at the autopsy on January 25, 2007, the body was identified through the use of dental records obtained by Kocis' family members.

Dr. John Consalvo testified that he attended the autopsy of the victim which was performed by Dr. Mary Pascucci. He stated that "the cause of death was a new decapitating wound to the neck. And the manner of death was homicide." Dr. Cansalvo also described the condition of the victim's body. He described second degree burns on the victim's back, as well as, third degree burning on his legs; his hands and arm were burned and his fingertips were completely burned. Fragments of cloth were burned to his skin. He further indicated that the victim's genitals were charred and there was a stab wound to the left side of the groin area.

Dr. Consalvo also testified that the victim's windpipe was completely severed as was his esophagus. Furthermore, the victim's carotid artery, one of the main arteries from the heart to the brain, was severed. This was determined to be the probably cause of death. There was also testimony as to 28-29 postmortem stab wounds to the victim. It was also determined that at the time the fire started the victim was not alive. Eighty percent of the body had third degree burns rendering the autopsy more difficult to complete.

At the preliminary hearing, Justin Hensley testified to his personal knowledge of the Defendent's business endeavors, namely their escort service and pornographic video production and website. Hensley also testified that both Defendents made statements in his presence that Cobra Video, which was owned and operated by the victim Bryan Kocis, "was one of the big competitions because of its success through the Internet, especially for the gay pornographic world... yes, it was a big rival, you know. It was, in their way, of becoming bigger." Furthermore, Hensley testified that he had heard about Sean Lockhart a.k.a. Brent Corrigan, from the Defendents in January of 2007. He stated that "[the Defendents] wanted [Sean Lockhart] to work for them because that would definitely help boost profit for the company if they had a star like that working for them." "They wanted to try and recruit him to their side, to the Boybatter name so it could help, you know, with the business", and in terms of money, they were looking to make "as much as possible". However, "Mr. Lockhart... had a contract through Cobra, so the only thing standing in their way was Mr. Kocis", because "nobody would, in that kind of industry with that money and everything, especially if he was under contract. They just wouldn't let him go like that to work with somebody else."

Justin Hensley also testified to the Defendants' extravagant tastes in, among other things, watches. More specifically, Hensley stated that "they had a nice collection of really high end watches as in Rolex, Omega." The relavance of this is that Bryan Kocis' Rolex watch, which further testimony will show he rarely took off his wrist, was reportedly missing after the murder. Finally, Hensley testified that the Defendants were acting differently after the death of Kocis and it seemed like Harlow Cuadra was acting "kind of like sketchy, like he was trying to push away from answering questions" regarding the Defendants' involvement in the homicide.

Thakor Patel testified that he is the owner/manager of the Fox Ridge Inn in Plains Township. He stated that on January 23, 2007, Joe Kerekes checked-in for two nights and the room was registered for two people. Kerekes was required to show photo identification at the time of check-in and registered that the vehicle he arrived in was gray in color. Kerekes, on the check-in slip, noted that he was from Virginia and originally started to provide an address of "1028 Str" before crossing it out and giving a different address. Finally, Mr. Patel noted that the hotel does not have Internet access and that if someone wanted to access the Internet, they would have to use their own wireless Internet. Mr. Patel documented Mr. Kerekes' VA Drivers License NO. XXXXXXXXX. Later, Cpl. Hannon noted this was in fact Kerekes' Virginia Drivers License.

Next, James Gilbert testified that he resides on Midland Drive in Dallas and was a neighbor of Bryan Kocis. He stated that he walked his dog on Midland Drive, including past the Kocis home, between approximately 7:35 to 7:50 p.m. on January 24, 2007. He further stated that at the time, he noticed a silver SUV in Kocis' driveway up towards the garage. He found this somewhat peculiar because vehicles didn't usually park in the driveway of the Kocis home; they typically parked in a spot in front of the home. Gilbert was shown Exhibit No. 12, which was a photo of a silver Nissan XTerra that Defendant Harlow Cuadra rented. The witness positively identified Exhibit No. 12 as the make and type of vehicle that he had seen on the evening of Wednesday, January 24, 2007 in the Kocis driveway. Gilbert recalled seeing flames coming from the Kocis residence at approximately 8:15-8:30 p.m. that evening.

Next, Amy Zamerowski testified that on the evening of January 24, 2007, she was going to pick up her friend Amy Withers at 64 Midland Drive, Dallas, right next door to the Kocis residence. She recalls that she turned onto Midland Drive at precisely 8:26 p.m. When she pulled into the Withers' driveway, there was a light colored SUV backing out of the Kocis driveway. Ms. Zamerowski was shown exhibits 13 through 25 which were photos taken by the Pennsylvania State Police of a silver Nissan XTerra. She testified that she was previously shown these photos and informed the State Police that the Nissan XTerra could have been the vehicle she had seen backing out of the Kocis driveway on the evening in question. Finally, Ms. Zamerowski testified that after seeing the vehicle leaving the Kocis driveway, she entered the Withers residence. A few moments later, someone knocked on the door warning them to get out of the house because there was a fire next door at the Kocis residence.

Next, Dallas Twp. Fire Chief Harry Vivian testified that a fire alarm came into the department for the Kocis home at 8:35 p.m. on January 24, 2007. It took the fire department approximately 20 minutes to one half hour to supress the fire and there was heavy fire damage to the front porch and the front of the house, namely the living room. It was the living room that the body of Bryan Kocis was found. Furthermore, Chief Vivian testified that when he went to the house with the State Police Fire Marshall, they found two smoke detectors which were removed from their mounts. The first floor smoke detector was placed on a table near the wall and the upstairs smoke detector was lying on the bathroom floor off the main hallway.

Trooper Ron Jarocha, Pennsylvania State Police Deputy Fire Marshall, then took the stand. He testified that, based on his knowledge, training and experience, it was his opinion that the fire was arson. He believed that "an open flame was used to ignite combustible materials which were placed behind the love seat." He opined that in the area of the love seat, "you could see a burn pattern on the floor, and the charring on the back of the [love seat]... If the fire started elsewhere in the room, this would be a protected area, and no reason for the fire to have burned underneath that area." He also noted that while removing items from the area of the love seat, the State Police "found remnants of cushioning... the foam which is inside the seats. [They] also found remnants of like a throw pillow. A small pillow that had like tassels on it. That was attached to the back of the house somewhere [near the love seat]. We also found signs of paper products, like cardboard paper. There were numerous, numerous combustible items being in the [love seat area]." He further testified in regards to the origin of fire that he "found no causes for this fire to occur between the coach - directly behind the love seat. There was nothing there to accidentally cause this fire." He also testified to finding the smoke detectors removed and placed in other locations.

Michael Kocis was the victim's father and the executor of the victim's estate. Prior to the start of his testimony, the defense attorneys stipulated that, with regards to the abuse of the corpse charge, "they would agree that Mr. Kocis would testify that the condition of this altered or destroyed corpse of his son would outrage the ordinary family sensibilities." They did, however, reserve their right to argue that it was not they who abused the corpse. He testified that his son was a quiet, private person who kept to himself. It was the normal practice for the family to call ahead before visiting the victim; they did not come to the victim's house unannounced. He also testified that there were several items of personal property that were missing from Bryan Kocis' home from the incident of January 24, 2007, namely two high-end expensive camcorders, computer towers, a Rolex watch which the younger Kocis never took off, as well as, business records such as 2257 forms. There items were reported missing to Thomas Baker, Nationwide Insurance Claim Representative who testified that the replacement value of the fire destroyed home was $208,254.00 and the total personal property loss due to the fire, as well as, items reported missing was $216,000.00.

The final witness to testify on day 1 of the preliminary hearing for the Defense was Robert Wagner, who was one of the victim's best friends. Robert Wagner described several of the items the victim used for his business including laptop computers, computer towers, and 2257 forms that were necessary in the pornography business and the locations where they were kept. Mr. Wagner also described two camcorders owned by the victim which he positively identified in a photo marked as exhibit 45. These are items that Michael Kocis had previously identified as being missing from his son's home after the incident and were included in the insurance claim submitted to Nationwide Insurance. Wagner also described Bryan Kocis' Rolex watch that he wore all the time, as well as, a flat sceen TV that the victim had just purchased at Christmastime. The Rolex watch was missing after January 24, 2007 and the TV was destroyed in the fire. Robert Wagner testified that he had seen all of these items in the victim's residence as recently as Sunday January 21, 2007.

Robert Wagner also testified that Bryan Kocis was "an intensively private person" and he did not have an open-door policy to visitors; advanced notice was required.

Finally, Robert Wagner testified that Bryan Kocis planned on meeting a new model on Wednesday January 24, 2007 between 7 and 8 p.m. Kocis informed Wagner of this via email and attached photos of the new model. The photos were attached to a file named "Danny" and Wagner testified that he recognized the photos when shown to him again. He recognized the person in the photos emailed to him by the victim as Harlow Cuadra and made an in-court identification of the Defendant. The victim was planning to meet Cuadra on the evening of his death under the aggregious assumption that was "Danny" a prospective new model.