Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Joseph Kerekes to Serve Life in Prison

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that Joseph Kerekes turned his head toward the left side of the courtroom Monday, cast his gaze at the area where the jurors would have been had he gone to trial, and listened to the family that sat in judgment in their place.

“We will never forgive nor will we ever forget what Mr. Kerekes did to this family,” Michael Kocis said after Kerekes pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in the January 2007 killing of his son, Bryan Kocis.

Minutes later, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. sentenced Kerekes to life in prison without parole, the mandatory term for a second-degree murder conviction, and an additional 56 months to 112 months in state prison and 24 months probation for the other charges: criminal conspiracy, evidence tampering and theft by unlawful taking.

“I’m very sorry,” Kerekes said, turning away from Olszewski.

Kerekes, 34, of Virginia Beach, Va., entered into a tentative plea agreement with prosecutors around 11 p.m. Sunday, after more than nine hours of negotiations at the state police barracks at Wyoming, with details and documents being worked out into Monday morning.

Kerekes’ attorneys, John Pike and Shelley Centini, first approached prosecutors about a possible plea three weeks ago and renewed their efforts after a pretrial hearing on evidence suppression last Thursday.

Kerekes, 34, and co-defendant Harlow Cuadra, 27, also of Virginia Beach, faced the death penalty and were scheduled to stand trial Jan. 5. Cuadra refused a plea agreement.

Kerekes said he will not testify against Cuadra.

Olszewski accepted Kerekes’ guilty plea after questioning him for more than an hour, gauging his understanding of the process that led to the agreement, and the sentence that he faced.

“Mr. Kerekes, you’re essentially giving up your life in society as you know it,” Olszewski said. “In an instant, you will not be a free man for the rest of your life.”

Kerekes completed a written guilty plea colloquy and signed a plea agreement that also bears the signatures of his attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys Michael Melnick and Shannon Crake.

Kerekes, wearing a green Luzerne County Correctional Facility jumpsuit, handcuffs and shackles, stood next to his attorneys and prosecutors as he affirmed his plea — nodding and saying “yes” as Olszewski read each of the five charges to which he had agreed to plead.

During the negotiations at the state police barracks Sunday, Kerekes gave a statement “to develop a factual basis for the plea,” Melnick said.

Kerekes told prosecutors he and Cuadra viewed Kocis, a rival producer of gay pornographer, as an “impediment to the expansion of their pornography business,” Melnick said.

“They decided to eliminate and kill Bryan Kocis,” Melnick said.

According to Kerekes, Cuadra ordered an online background check of Kocis days before the murder, sent e-mail messages and photographs to Kocis, placed telephone calls to him on a cell phone purchased and used only to call Kocis, and rented a vehicle that was seen by witnesses in Kocis’ driveway around the time of the killing.

Cuadra wrote to Kocis posing as an inexperienced pornographic film actor named “Danny Moilin” and used the character as a ruse to gain a private meeting with Kocis, 46, who led a nearly reclusive life in Dallas Township, Kerekes said.

Cuadra went alone to Kocis’ home on Midland Drive while Kerekes stayed at the Fox Ridge Inn in Plains Township, Kerekes said. Cuadra allegedly slashed Kocis’ neck, nearly decapitating him, and stabbing his torso nearly 30 times and later setting fire to his Midland Drive home.

Cuadra returned to the motel in the rented vehicle and the two men fled to Virginia, Kerekes said.

Investigators found links between Cuadra, Kerekes and the killing in a February search of the Virginia Beach, Va., home where the alleged killers lived, including two Sony digital video cameras that had been taken from Kocis’ home.

“This was the most catastrophic and momentous event that ever happened to the Kocis family,” Melnick said. “They are seeking closure. It has been a tough road.”

Meanwhile, according to the Times Leader... when Harlow Cuadra returned to a Plains Township motel where he and Joseph Kerekes had been staying in January 2007, he told Kerekes he had followed through on their plans: the murder of Bryan Kocis, Kerekes told attorneys in recent days.

Kerekes, who pleaded guilty on Monday to charges stemming from his role in Kocis’ death, also said Cuadra stole a number of items from Kocis’ Dallas Township home. Kerekes said he and Cuadra disposed of the murder weapon and a few of Kocis’ personal belongings.

Kerekes, 34, of Virginia Beach, Va., was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the charge of second-degree murder. Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. also sentenced Kerekes on four related charges.

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes were charged with the Jan. 24, 2007, stabbing death of Kocis, their rival in the gay porn industry. They were scheduled to stand trial together in January, but Kerekes entered a guilty plea agreement with prosecutors after discussions during the last week.

Cuadra is still scheduled to stand trial next month.

Attorneys and family members could not comment on the case because of a court-imposed gag order. Michael Kocis, the victim’s father, spoke before the sentencing and expressed gratitude toward prosecutors and authorities for their hard work in bringing some closure.

“We will never forgive and we will never forget what Mr. Kerekes has done to this family,” Michael Kocis said.

Kocis’ mother and sister also spoke in court and cried as they said they were thankful for some closure, and that the family was glad Kerekes had come to terms with what happened.

Kerekes did not speak before being sentenced but cried when Olszewski read the charges. As he was leaving the courthouse, Kerekes said he “absolutely will not testify for the state against Harlow (Cuadra)” at the trial.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said he and Assistant District Attorney Shannon Crake, as well as Kerekes and his attorneys, John Pike and Shelley Centini, met several times during the past four to five days, including Sunday, to discuss the plea.

Melnick said Kerekes told them Cuadra decided to “eliminate” Kocis, purchased a .38-caliber gun and knife from a Virginia Beach pawn shop and rented an SUV to drive to Pennsylvania. Melnick said Kerekes and Cuadra traveled together and Kerekes said he paid cash for a room at the Fox Hill Inn because the motel had no security or surveillance. They paid for the room in cash so they could not be tracked.

Melnick said Kerekes told them the two did surveillance on the Kocis home prior to the homicide, and that Kerekes participated in e-mail correspondence sent to Kocis before his death. Kerekes told attorneys he was aware Cuadra intended to kill Kocis, and the lighter fluid and lighters used to set the blaze were purchased at Wal-Mart.

Kerekes said he stayed at the motel while Cuadra went to the Kocis home. When Cuadra returned, he said he had murdered Kocis and set the home ablaze, according to Kerekes. Prosecutors said Kocis’ throat was slashed to the point his death was ruled homicide by decapitation.

Kerekes told attorneys Cuadra returned with several items belonging to Kocis, including a Rolex watch, camcorders, tapes, computers and Kocis’ cell phone. They discarded the murder weapon and some of Kocis’ belongings.

Kerekes was sentenced to an additional 56 months on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery, theft by unlawful taking, tampering with physical evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with physical evidence. Olszewski ordered Kerekes to pay more than $2,500 in funeral costs to the estate of Kocis, and $250 in homeowner’s insurance.

“Essentially, you’ve given up your life,” Olszewski said. “You will not be a free man ever again.”

Joe's Sentence: