Friday, July 11, 2008

Cuadra, Kerekes Attorneys Should Have Acted Sooner, Olszewski Says

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that the two defense attorneys dismissed Wednesday from the capital murder case against Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes were aware of their potential conflict of interest since May and should have moved to remove themselves sooner, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said.

Mark Bufalino, who represented Kerekes, and Galante, who represented Cuadra, joined the Wilkes-Barre office of the Philadelphia-based law firm Elliott Greenleaf in May, and Bufalino spoke about the potential conflict with Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick last month, Olszewski said.

“Those issues and that conversation, for whatever reason, were not brought to the attention of this court,” Olszewski said.

“That should have been reported to the court,” Olszewski added. “I’m disappointed that did not happen.”

Olszewski extended the midday lunch break Wednesday to nearly two hours to allow the four remaining defense attorneys time to determine whether they could proceed with the pre-trial hearing later in the afternoon.

The hearing had been scheduled to resolve a number of motions, including a request from both defendants that they be tried separately and that certain pieces of prosecution evidence be suppressed.

Cuadra, 26, and Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach, Va., are accused of killing Bryan Kocis, 46, the owner of a company they produced gay pornographic films, in Dallas Township in January 2007.

They are accused of slashing Kocis’ neck to the point of near decapitation, stabbing his torso nearly 30 times and later setting fire to his Midland Drive home.

They face the death penalty and are scheduled to stand trial together beginning Sept. 2.

When the hearing resumed Wednesday, the attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes told Olszewski they were not prepared to continue and asked for more time.

Olszewski granted a continuance and said he would appoint new attorneys to fill the vacancies created by the removal of Bufalino and Galante. Possible replacements include the five attorneys left in the conflict counsel pool: Brian Corcoran, Joseph Cosgrove, Samuel Falcone Jr., Matthew Kelly and Gerald Wassil.

Despite the delay, Olszewski said he still wants the trial to start Sept. 2.

Melnick said 12 witnesses had been brought in at taxpayer expense from Virginia, California and elsewhere to testify at the pre-trial hearing, including Renee Martin, a business associate who has been identified as a material witness by prosecutors. Prosecutors recorded several telephone conversations Cuadra and Kerekes conducted with Martin, while they were incarcerated at the Virginia Beach Correctional Facility.

In one conversation, Kerekes told Martin about purchases he and Cuadra made at a Wal-Mart prior to Kocis’ murder, including a device similar to a Swiss Army knife, germicide and an “exasperator,” which he described as “stuff to make a fire big.”

Prosecutors said that prior to the murder, Cuadra and Kerekes had complained to employees and associates of their pornography business that Cobra Video, a company owned by Kocis, had been impeding their expansion.