Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Judge Denies Request for Sanctions

Update 05/15/08: The Times Leader also covers the story, and adds the following: A judge on Wednesday refused to punish Luzerne County prosecutors for their handling of a homicide case.

Attorneys for homicide suspect Joseph Kerekes had asked for the prosecutors to be sanctioned.

Kerekes’ attorneys had filed a notice that they might, at trial, present an alibi that Kerekes was miles away at a Plains Township motel when Kocis was being killed.

Prosecutors responded with a list of 385 witnesses who would rebut Kerekes’ alibi. But Kerekes’ attorneys said the list was not done in accordance with the law because it was incomplete and contained witnesses who had not been contacted by prosecutors.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. ordered prosecutors to revamp the list. They later filed a list of 97 witnesses, but Kerekes’ attorneys again asked for sanctions.

At a hearing Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Mike Melnick said Kerekes’ attorneys have been given reports outlining the statements of the witnesses on the prosecution’s list.

The attorneys could look at the names on the witness list and review the reports of those witnesses. That would give the attorneys the answers they need in reference to the alibi rebuttal.

Olszewski agreed and dismissed the request for sanctions.

But Kerekes’ attorneys filed another motion for sanctions Wednesday. They said prosecutors violated a judge’s gag order by releasing police reports containing statements made by prison acquaintances of Kerekes. Those acquaintances said Kerekes spoke of his involvement in Kocis’ slaying.

The attorneys also said prosecutors spoke to one of those acquaintances, Robert Rodden, without permission from Rodden’s attorney John Pike. Pike is also one of Kerekes’ attorneys. Kerekes’ attorneys now want Olszewski to stop prosecutors from using the statements of those acquaintances at trial.

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that attorneys for accused murderer Joseph Kerekes went to a Luzerne County judge Wednesday for the third time in two months and requested sanctions against prosecutors for tactics they claimed were designed to hamper the defense.

And for a third time they lost.

Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. denied and dismissed a motion for sanctions filed by Kerekes' attorneys last Friday, allowing prosecutors to proceed to trial with a list of nearly 100 potential alibi rebuttal witnesses.

The witnesses, including prison officials and Kerekes' former prisonmates in Virginia and Luzerne County, could be called to dispute Kerekes' whereabouts the night Bryan Kocis was killed in Dallas Township in January 2007.

Kerekes claimed in a notice of potential alibi defense filed in January that he was at the Fox Ridge Motel in Plains Township the night of the murder.

Prosecutors said their witnesses heard different slivers of a story from Kerekes - that he was involved in the murder and that he would attempt to place the bulk of blame on his co-defendant Harlow Cuadra.

Kerekes, 34, and Cuadra, 26, both of Virginia Beach, Va., face the death penalty. Their trial is scheduled to start on Sept. 2.

Kerekes' attorneys - Shelley Centini, John Pike and Mark Bufalino - argued in their motion that the list of 97 witnesses was still too lenghty, even after it had been cut from an earlier version that contained 385 names.

Pike argued in court Wednesday that many of the witnesses on the revised list were not clearly identified, that prisoners, officials and corporate agents were listed with the name of their correctional facility or company and with no description of their connection to Kerekes or his potential alibi defense.

"If you have a name, you can reference that name in your discovery material," Olszewski said, referring to the thousands of pages of documents, interviews and evidence generated during the investigation.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick admitted connecting the potential witnesses to Kerekes could be a challenge for Kerekes' team of court-appointed attorneys.

"We've got an open door policy," Melnick said. "We'd be
happy to sit down with Mr. Pike and debrief him."