Monday, August 25, 2008

PPO Expected to Rule this Week on Motions Related to Cuadra/Kerekes Trial

The Citizens' Voice asks... will accused killers Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes be tried together or separately for the murder of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township in January 2007?

Can their history of working as male escorts and producers of gay pornographic films, referred to in court filings as, “alleged prior bad acts,” be used by prosecutors to undermine their character?

And will prosecutors be permitted to introduce a number of pieces of potentially incriminating evidence, including recordings and transcripts of conversations in which Cuadra and Kerekes told acquaintances intimate details about the murder?

Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. could answer those questions and more this week, when he is expected to rule on more than a dozen of the pre-trial motions filed by attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes within the last four months.

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

They face the death penalty and are scheduled to be tried together beginning Jan. 5, following the postponement of an original Sept. 2 start date.

Attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes have argued the one-time lovers and business partners have developed an “adversarial” relationship, with conflicting defense strategies, and should be tried separately.

According to notices of possible alibi defense filed by both defendants, Cuadra and Kerekes could claim they were in Room 211 of the Fox Ridge Motel in Plains Township at the time Kocis was killed, 12 miles away.

However, Kerekes has stated in conversations with acquaintance Renee Martin that he was in the room alone while Cuadra visited Kocis.

“The jury will have no choice but to disbelieve the testimony offered on behalf of one of the defendants in order to believe the testimony offered on behalf of the other defendant,” attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes said in a brief filed Aug. 6.

In addition to the request for separate trials, attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes have asked Olszewski to prohibit prosecutors from using statements Kerekes made to police immediately after his arrest in May 2007, conversations Cuadra and Kerekes had with Sean Lockhart and Grant Roy in San Diego in April 2007, e-mail messages Cuadra sent to Kocis in the days before the killing, and evidence seized from the home where Cuadra and Kerekes lived in Viriginia Beach that linked them to Kocis.

Kerekes testified at a pre-trial hearing last month that the police interview, conducted May 15, 2007, at the headquarters of the Viriginia Beach Police Department, should be suppressed because the investigators, Cpl. Leo Hannon of state police and Special Agent James J. Glenn of the FBI, violated his right to an attorney.

“They walked into the room and I said, ‘I want a lawyer,’” Kerekes said during brief testimony that was limited to the post-arrest police interview. “It was the first thing out of my mouth.”

The investigators continued to ask questions about Kerekes’ employment history, military history, personal relationships and other background, the attorneys said.

Kerekes began to cry during the interview and “swore on his mother’s life that he was not the one” who killed Kocis.

Kerekes volunteered information about a motive, and hinted at his possible involvement, as he denied knowledge of a telephone conversation between Cuadra and Lockhart on Jan. 25, the day after the killing.

According to prosecutors, Cuadra directed Lockhart to read about Kocis’ death on, the Web site of WNEP-TV, and allegedly said, “I guess my guy went overboard.”

“Are you going to believe the words from the lips of that boy?” Kerekes said during the police interview, referring to Lockhart, who starred in gay pornographic films produced by Kocis. “It wasn’t about money. We have money.”

The attorneys questioned the validity of the San Diego conversations because of conflicts in California and Pennsylvania law governing the use of hidden recording devices by investigators and because Roy, who volunteered to wear such a device, had originally been identified as a suspect in Kocis’ death.

Kocis had, until days before his death, been locked in a lawsuit with Roy and Lockhart over Lockhart’s ability to work for other companies using his stage name, Brent Corrigan.

“It was quick. He never saw it coming,” Cuadra said, according to transcripts of the San Diego conversations.

“Actually seeing that (expletive) go down,” Cuadra said later in the transcript, allegedly referring to Kocis. “It’s actually sick, but it made me feel better inside.”

The e-mail messages, obtained by prosecutors through six search warrants from Jan. 30, 2007, to Aug. 27, 2007, show Cuadra established communication with Kocis on Jan. 22, two days before his death.

Cuadra wrote to Kocis posing as an inexperienced pornographic film actor named “Danny Moilin.” He created an e-mail address on Jan. 22, 2007, solely to contact Kocis, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Cuadra created the Moilin character as a ruse to gain a private meeting with Kocis, 46, who led a nearly reclusive life.

Cuadra sent Kocis photographs of himself, tying him to the Moilin character, and ordered an online background check of Kocis days before the murder, prosecutors said.

Cuadra also called Kocis on a cell phone purchased and used to call only Kocis, and rented a vehicle that was seen by witnesses in Kocis’ driveway around the time of the killing, prosecutors said.

Attorneys for Cuadra said the search warrants used to obtain the e-mail messages, from Yahoo, Excite and MySpace, were granted without sufficient probable cause.