Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New Trial Date: January 5, 2009

According the Citizens' Voice... the start of the trial for accused killers Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes will be postponed until January, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said Tuesday, after attorneys for both defendants argued their preparation had been hampered by the dismissal of two colleagues last month.

Olszewski, who had reiterated his commitment to the scheduled Sept. 2 start date at nearly every pre-trial hearing since he set the court calendar in April, said the trial will now begin Jan. 5.

“I obviously have no control over it at this point,” Olszewski said, glaring at the defense attorneys seated on the left side of his courtroom. “I’m telling everybody right now, there will be no additional continuances.”

Shelley Centini, an attorney for Kerekes, asked for the postponement after meeting with Olszewski and the other attorneys on the case for more than an hour in the judge’s chambers.

Centini said the removal last month of Mark Bufalino from Kerekes’ defense team left the remaining attorneys unprepared. Centini said she had not received important case files from Bufalino and could not be sure her files contained all of the material he had previously collected.

“Without the documents from Mr. Bufalino, it makes it difficult if not impossible to prepare for trial,” Centini said.

Olszewski said Bufalino told him by telephone Tuesday that Kerekes’ attorneys never requested the file.

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach, Va., are accused of killing Bryan Kocis, a rival producer of gay pornographic films and later setting fire to his Midland Drive home.

They face the death penalty.

Olszewski ruled last month that Bufalino and Paul Galante, an attorney for Cuadra, could no longer serve on the case because the two attorneys work for the same law firm — the Wilkes-Barre office of Elliott Greenleaf.

Bufalino, Shelley Centini and John Pike were appointed last October to represent Kerekes. Galante, Stephen Menn and Michael Senape were assigned in January to represent Cuadra.

They are all members of the county’s conflict counsel pool, a separate group of publicly funded attorneys assigned to cases when a defendant is unable to retain a private attorney and a public defender cannot be used because of a conflict of interest.

Of the remaining attorneys on the case, only Pike and Menn are certified by the state Supreme Court to handle death penalty cases. Under state law, each defense team must have at least one attorney who is death penalty certified. Senape told Olszewski he is working toward receiving death penalty certification.

Olszewski asked President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella last month to appoint 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.

Ciavarella has yet to act, Olszewski said.

Attorneys in the case are under a court-imposed gag order and are not permitted to publicly comment on any developments.

Centini’s request came at what had been scheduled as a pre-trial conference and Olszewski was expected to rule on a number of defense motions, including requests to suppress evidence and hold separate trials for Cuadra and Kerekes.

Olszewski said he has completed nearly all of his rulings on the motions and would issue a set of opinions next week. Olszewski said he would reschedule the pre-trial conference for mid-November.

“No sense in rushing it at this point,” Olszewski said.

Meanwhile, the Times Leader says... cancel the September murder trial for double homicide suspects Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes.

Attorneys for the two Virginia men on Tuesday requested to delay the trial until a third attorney for each man is appointed by the court.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. granted the request, rescheduling the trial to begin Jan. 5 with jury selection. The trial had been scheduled to start Sept. 2.

The two are accused in the January 2007 slaying of Dallas Township gay film producer Bryan Kocis, 44, at Kocis’ Midland Drive home.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski are seeking the death penalty for Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach.

Kerekes’ attorneys, Shelley Centini and John Pike, and Cuadra’s attorneys, Michael Senape and Stephen Menn, requested to delay the trial until a third attorney is appointed to assist them in defending their clients.

The yet-to-be appointed attorneys will replace attorney Mark Bufalino, who co-represented Kerekes, and attorney Paul Galante, who co-represented Cuadra.

Bufalino and Galante withdrew from the case on July 10 citing a conflict of interest because they work in the same private law firm. After Bufalino and Galante were permitted to withdraw last month, Olszewski said he would appoint attorneys to replace them.

At Tuesday’s pre-trial hearing, Olszewski said attempts are still being made to find attorneys who are qualified in defending death penalty cases.

Centini said in her request to delay the trial that she hadn’t received Bufalino’s file. Without Bufalino’s file, Centini said, “It would make it entirely difficult but not impossible” to defend Cuadra.

In a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Olszewski said Bufalino related that Cuadra’s attorneys have all necessary court records.

Olszewski said he expects to file his rulings next week on requests by attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes for separate trials and to prohibit prosecutors from using conversations that were recorded in San Diego, Calif., in April 2007.

Investigators recorded conversations between Cuadra and Kerekes and Grant Roy, a pornographic film producer, and actor Sean Lockhart. During the conversations, Cuadra and Kerekes allegedly admitted to being involved in the killing, according to court records.

Prosecutors claim in court records that Cuadra and Kerekes killed Kocis because they wanted to film movies with Lockhart, who was a contract model for Kocis’ company Cobra Video.