Thursday, March 6, 2008

Kerekes says he only Discussed Legal Fees with Fannick

The Times Leader is reporting that homicide suspect Joseph Kerekes only spoke with attorney Demetrius Fannick about legal fees.

That’s it, Kerekes said Thursday.

He never discussed a defense strategy.

He never discussed his whereabouts on the day Bryan Kocis was killed.

He never discussed the merits of his case.

He never discussed cooperating with prosecutors.

And he never accepted any legal advice or opinions from Fannick.

“Absolutely not,” Kerekes testified Thursday.

The testimony came in the second day of a hearing to determine whether Fannick should be disqualified from representing Kerekes’ co-defendant, Harlow Cuadra.

Cuadra and Kerekes are awaiting trial in the January 2007 slaying of Kocis, 44, inside his Dallas Township home. Luzerne County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for both suspects.

But first they are seeking to have Fannick removed from the case because he had met with Kerekes before being hired on behalf of Cuadra.

Prosecutors believe Kerekes and Fannick discussed more than just legal fees in the more-than-five hours they met in eight meetings in prison. And that, they said, creates a conflict with Fannick now defending Cuadra.

But Kerekes and Fannick have both said there is no conflict because they only discussed fees.

And Kerekes Thursday morning maintained that stance on the witness stand, being questioned by one of his attorneys, John Pike, prosecutor Mike Melnick, and Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.

Kerekes said each of his eight meetings with Fannick lasted just five or 10 minutes. Eight meetings, he said, was not a lot when discussing more than $100,000 in fees, he said.

But that’s all the meetings were about.

Melnick challenged Kerekes, though. The prosecutor wanted to know: If Kerekes and Fannick only discussed fees, why did he tell Fannick, prior to a past court hearing, that he didn’t want the attorney to use anything the two spoke about in their meetings?

Kerekes said he was “emotional” that day. He meant he didn’t want Fannick using any “inferences” he might have drawn from the meetings.

“It was an emotional reaction,” he said. “I was a little emotional that morning.”

Kerekes was the only witness to testify Thursday.

Olszewski now needs to conduct a hearing to determine whether Kerekes and Cuadra can legally waive any conflict that might exist before he can rule on the Fannick issue.

That hearing is set for March 14.

Update @ 4:25 PM: The Commonwealth Attorney's office has filed two additional supplemental briefs regarding Attorney Fannick's disqualification. (I'll try to have more on this later).

Update @ March 7 9:00 AM: The Citizen's Voice also covers yesterday's hearing, and adds the following: “Eight times isn’t a lot of times to discuss $100,000,” a handcuffed Kerekes testified. After his last meeting with Fannick, Kerekes said he made it clear that neither he nor his family could afford to pay for Fannick’s services.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick contended during a closing argument that an implied agreement occurred and threatens the trial overall.

“The appearance of fairness … is paramount,” said Melnick, who lead a team of four prosecutors in the case. “To condone this conflict of interest is just wrong.”

Melnick said that by allowing Fannick to remain as Cuadra’s attorney, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. would be giving the defendants a possible grounds for appeal if found guilty.