Monday, September 8, 2008

Kocis Hearing Big Bill for D.A.

According to the Times Leader... when court-appointed attorneys Mark Bufalino and Paul Galante said they had a conflict representing homicide suspects Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes, their disclosure cost Luzerne County more than $4,000, according to receipts from the District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors paid the bill to schedule flights and arrange hotel accommodations for witnesses to testify at a July 24 pre-trial hearing, which was held to finish a July 8 hearing that was suspended when Bufalino and Galante said they had a conflict.

Most of the prosecution witnesses, according to court records, are from other states, including Virginia, California and Texas.

District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll said she is prohibited from publicly discussing the case because of a court-imposed gag order, but generally speaking, her office is financially responsible to pay for transportation and lodging costs for witnesses outside the area.

According to the 2008 budget for the District Attorney’s Office, approximately $232,000 is earmarked for witnesses to testify during court proceedings, up from $179,000 in 2007.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, both from Virginia Beach, Va., in the killing of 44-year-old Bryan Kocis at Kocis’ Dallas Township home in January 2007. Police said the two killed Kocis, and then set his home on fire.

Investigators allege Cuadra and Kerekes considered Kocis their main rival in the gay porn industry, and wanted to work with Sean Lockhart, who was a contract model for Kocis’ production company, Cobra Video.

During a pre-trial hearing on July 8 before Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., Bufalino disclosed that he and Galante had a conflict representing their clients because they are associates in the same law firm.

Bufalino defended Cuadra, and Galante defended Kerekes. They were among several attorneys court-appointed to represent the two men.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said during the July 8 hearing that 12 witnesses were flown in from various parts of the country and lodged at local hotels at the expense of the district attorney’s office.

None of those witnesses testified because Olszewski suspended the July 8 hearing after Bufalino and Galante disclosed that they had a conflict. They subsequently were permitted to withdraw from the case.

It was disclosed during a July 9 hearing that the conflict between Bufalino and Galante had been known since May, soon after they joined the same private law firm.

According to the receipts submitted by the district attorney’s office, $11,913.31 was spent for airfare, lodging and meals for the 12 witnesses to attend the July 8 hearing.

When the July 8 hearing was suspended and rescheduled to July 24, the district attorney’s office paid an additional $4,664.08 for witnesses’ airfare, lodging and meals, according to receipts.

Grant Roy, a witness from San Diego, missed a flight for the July 24 hearing and had to arrange another flight at a total cost of $2,037, according to the receipts.

Roy was also charged a $15 baggage check fee, and a county detective spent $22 for parking and turnpike tolls to pick up Roy at the Philadelphia International Airport to attend the July 24 hearing.

Olszewski has yet to appoint attorneys to replace Bufalino and Galante.

Cuadra is defended by attorneys Stephen Menn and Michael Senape, and Kerekes is defended by attorneys Shelley Centini and John Pike.

Their trial is tentatively set to begin with jury selection on Jan. 5.