Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Date Set for Kocis Murder Trial

(Update 04/17/2008): The Citizens' Voice has posted a correction to an article in Wednesday’s edition about the scheduling of a Sept. 2 trial for accused killers Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes misstated Kerekes’ attorneys’ position on a possible alibi defense. Kerekes’ attorneys have maintained he was at the Fox Ridge Motel in Plains Township the night Bryan Kocis was killed in Dallas Township last January. Prosecutors had raised the possibility of Kerekes having two potential alibis, “Plan A” and “Plan B,” but no documents filed by Kerekes’ attorneys ever mentioned a second alibi.

(Update 04/16/2008): The Citizens' Voice is also reporting that during yesterday's status conference, Justin Hensley, a prosecution witness serving with the Army National Guard in Iraq, might be able to testify at the trial, Melnick said.

Prosecutors submitted a motion last week claiming Hensley’s military duty would make him unavailable. The motion also sought to admit testimony Hensley gave at a preliminary hearing.

Hensley, who worked with Cuadra and Kerekes in the making of homosexual pornographic movies, recently had his tour of duty extended into next year, but may be able to obtain temporary leave, Capt. Sonny Louie said in an e-mail to prosecutors.

“Mr. Hensley is a very material commonwealth witness,” Melnick told Olszewski. “He sets the scene for the events that transpired that evening.”

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that Joseph Kerekes and Harlow Cuadra will stand trial for the murder of Brian Kocis beginning on Sept. 2, Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. ruled at a hearing Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Kerekes' attorneys said he will abandon a "Plan A" alibi defense that stated he was out of the state the night Kocis was killed.

Kerekes will instead offer a "Plan B" alibi that states he was at a Plains Township motel when the murder occurred.

The dual potential alibis had compelled prosecutors to submit a list of 385 alibi rebuttal witnesses. Kerekes' attorneys argued the list included immaterial witnesses who had no knowledge of Kerekes' whereabouts.

Prosecutors agreed Tuesday to submit a new witness list, with significantly fewer names, once Kerekes' attorneys said he would only offer the motel alibi.

The Times Leader is reporting now that the confusion over who will defend suspect Harlow Cuadra has temporarily settled, a judge on Tuesday was able to resolve several other disputes in the homicide case.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. on Tuesday scheduled the trial of Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes to begin Sept. 2.

But if the trials end up being severed, only one of the suspects will go to trial in September.

The judge also gave Cuadra's attorneys until May 9 to file their pre-trial motions. A hearing on all of the motions will be scheduled. He said the hearing will likely occur in about a month.

He also ordered prosecutors to revamp their list of witnesses who are expected to rebut Kerekes' alibi defense.

Kerekes' attorneys have said they might present a defense to show Kerekes was at a Plains Township motel when Kocis was being killed inside his Dallas Township home.

Prosecutors later presented a list of 385 potential witnesses to rebut that alibi.

But Kerekes' attorneys said the response was illegal because many of the witnesses had not been contacted about their potential testimony. And they would need more resources and time to interview all 385.

Olszewski on Tuesday said the prosecution's list must contain witnesses who have knowledge that Kerekes was not at the motel at the time.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Melnick said that will significantly reduce the list.

Olszewski has yet to rule on whether Kerekes' charges should be dismissed for a lack of evidence and whether he has to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for prosecutors, as they had requested.

A Kerekes attorney, Shelley Centini, said the defense team had not yet had their own evaluation done. They need to do that first and then decide if they will use it at trial.

Once the defense make that determination, Olszewski said he will decide whether Kerekes should undergo an evaluation for prosecutors.