Tuesday, September 9, 2008

One Trial for Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that accused killers Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes will be tried together with nearly all of the evidence prosecutors planned to use against them, including potential incriminating e-mail messages and recordings of conversations, Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. ruled Monday.

Prosecutors will be able to introduce recordings and transcripts of the April 2007 conversations in which Cuadra and Kerekes shared details with two acquaintances of the killing, four months earlier, of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township.

They will be able to introduce a series of e-mail messages Cuadra sent under a pseudonym to Kocis in the days before the killing, as well as physical evidence seized from the defendants’ home in Virginia Beach, Va., that connected them to Kocis’ residence.

But they will not be allowed to use any of the statements Kerekes made to investigators hours after his arrest in Virginia Beach in May 2007.

Kerekes’ attorneys argued those statements, which included opaque references to the killing, were elicited after Kerekes asked for an attorney, as he provided Cpl. Leo Hannon of state police and Special Agent James J. Glenn of the FBI with “biographical information” and listened to an informal reading of the criminal complaint against him.

“They walked into the room and I said, ‘I want a lawyer,’” Kerekes testified at a pre-trial hearing in July. “It was the first thing out of my mouth.”

Kerekes later cried and “swore on his mother’s life that he was not the one,” who killed Kocis, investigators said.

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

“At no time did Cpl. Hannon permit the defendant to consult with counsel prior (to) questioning regarding the aforementioned information,” Olsewski wrote in a 50-page answer to motions filed earlier this year by Kerekes’ attorneys. Olszewski filed a 40-page answer to motions filed by Cuadra’s attorneys.

Cuadra, 26, 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 stand trial Jan. 5.

Olszewski rejected a defense motion to separate the trials, which included claims that Cuadra and Kerekes have developed an “adversarial” relationship, with conflicting defense strategies, and should be tried separately.

“A claim of mere hostility between defendants, or that one defendant may try to exonerate himself at the expense of the other, is an insufficient basis upon which to grant a motion to sever,” Olszewski said.

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.

“(The argument) that their defense are antagonistic is simply inaccurate,” Olsewski said. “Neither defendant claims his co-defendant committed the homicide. Indeed, both defendants have filed absolutely identical alibis.”

Meanwhile, the Times Leader says a Luzerne County judge ruled that identical alibi claims by homicide suspects Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes impeded their chances for separate trials.

Monday’s ruling by Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. was one of several pre-trial issues in the capital murder case against the two Virginia Beach, Va., men.

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, are charged in the January 2007 killing of 44-year-old Bryan Kocis at the victim’s Dallas Township home. Investigators allege they killed Kocis, whom they considered their main rival in the gay porn film industry.

Attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes sought separate trials because they say each client might implicate the other in the killing.

Cuadra and Kerekes claim they were at the Fox Ridge Inn in Plains Township when Kocis was killed. Kerekes also claimed that Cuadra left the motel alone and visited Kocis.

Olszewski determined their alibi defenses that they were at the motel are “absolutely identical alibis,” and are “neither antagonistic nor irreconcilable. They certainly do not require severance.”

In support of his ruling, Olszewski said Cuadra and Kerekes continued their alleged conspiracy after Kocis was killed by agreeing to a plan that prosecutors call Plan B.

Plan B, according to prosecutors, was devised by Kerekes and Cuadra while they were being held at a Virginia Beach prison in May 2007. During three-way telephone calls between Kerekes, Cuadra and their friend Renee Martin that were recorded by investigators, they agreed to an alibi that had Kerekes at the motel and Cuadra visiting Kocis, but left Kocis’ home when he smelled smoke.

Prosecutors were permitted to use two recorded conversations Kerekes and Cuadra allegedly had with Grant Roy and Sean Lockhart at a San Diego restaurant and beach in April 2007.

Investigators in California, with assistance from Pennsylvania investigators, intercepted the conversations by placing a recording device on Roy.

Arrest and court records allege Cuadra and Kerekes implicated themselves in the Kocis killing, telling Roy and Lockhart that they “did some recon work” of Kocis’ home, and said “It was quick; he never saw it coming.”

Lockhart was a contract model for Kocis’ company, Cobra Video.

Investigators claim Cuadra and Kerekes wanted to film movies with Lockhart, and discussed making “under-the-table payments” to Roy, a director of pornographic films and Lockhart’s business partner, to avoid paying Cobra Video.

Olszewski prohibited prosecutors from using statements Kerekes allegedly made to state police Cpl. Leo Hannon Jr. and special agent James Glenn with the Federal Bureau of Investigation after he was arrested in May 2007.

Hannon was reading the criminal complaint and affidavit to Kerekes when he interrupted several times, telling Hannon and Glenn he wanted an attorney.

Prosecutors are allowed to use e-mails recovered from computers owned by Cuadra and Kerekes, and items seized by investigators from their Virginia Beach home.

Investigators allege Cuadra sent Kocis several e-mails in mid-January 2007 under the pretense that he was interested in becoming a model for Cobra Video.

Olszewski said he will postpone his ruling on having the trial in Luzerne County or an out-of-county jury to decide the case until an attempt is made to select a jury in Luzerne County.

Their trial is tentatively scheduled to start with jury selection on Jan. 5.

... and WNEP TV-16 reports that two men suspected of killed a gay porn producer in Luzerne County then setting his house on fire to cover the crime will be tried together.

Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes are accused of killing Brian Kocis near Dallas in January of last year.

A Luzerne County judge also upheld the prosecution's request to seek the death penalty in the case.