Friday, December 5, 2008

Judge to Rule on Kocis Evidence

According to the Citizen's Voice... a Virginia Beach police detective said Thursday he coordinated part of his investigation into a prostitution business allegedly run by Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes to coincide with their May 2007 arrest for the killing of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township four months earlier.

Det. Matthew P. Childress of the Virginia Beach Police Department testified Thursday at a pretrial hearing in Luzerne County Court that he executed a search warrant on the Virginia Beach home where Cuadra and Kerekes lived with the knowledge Pennsylvania State Police investigators were closing in on them for the Kocis killing.

“I planned it,” Childress said. “My investigation was basically sidetracked because we didn’t want to jeopardize the Pennsylvania investigation.”

Attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes argued items seized from the home and the BMW M5 sedan they were in at the time of their arrest in May 2007 — including a knife and laptop computer — were obtained outside the scope of a warrant granted for the investigation into their business practices.

“The purpose of your search warrant was to look for documents and evidence related to your investigation,” Cuadra’s attorney, Michael Senape, told Childress.

No weapons were mentioned in the warrant, Senape said, and only vehicles parked adjacent to the home were listed, not specifically the BMW M5.

“If you had all this evidence that the BMW M5 was used in the prostitution ring, why didn’t you include it in (the search warrant)?” Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. asked. “Obviously the BMW, when it was stopped, was not (parked near the home) so you did not search that vehicle subject to the search warrant.”

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, both of Virginia Beach, Va., are accused of fatally stabbing Kocis, a rival producer of gay pornographic films, in Dallas Township in January 2007 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.

Childress pursued an investigation into alleged money laundering by Cuadra and Kerekes under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as Pennsylvania authorities attempted to connect them to the Kocis killing. Childress obtained a warrant on May 14 and, the next day, executed a search on the home where Cuadra and Kerekes lived at 1028 Stratem Court, Virginia Beach, Va.

Cuadra and Kerekes left before the search and were stopped a short time later by police on Virginia Beach Boulevard, about five miles away. They were taken into custody and charged with murdering Kocis.

Olszewski asked prosecutors and attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes to submit presupposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on the suppression issue by Dec. 19 and said he would have a decision, “certainly by the end of the year.”

Meanwhile the Times Leader reports... PPO is expected to rule by the end of the year whether evidence seized from the vehicle of homicide suspects Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes can be used at an upcoming trial.

At a suppression hearing held Thursday, attorneys argued whether a knife found in the glove compartment of Cuadra and Kerekes’ vehicle was legally obtained.

Detective Matthew Childress, from the Virginia Beach, Va. police department, said he obtained warrants to search the duo’s Virginia Beach home on May 15, 2007, regarding an unrelated Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act case in which Childress said Cuadra and Kerekes allegedly were operating a prostitution ring under the disguise of an escort service called Boys R Us.

Childress said in testimony Thursday that informants told him Cuadra and Kerekes were leaving their home in the morning on May 15, 2007, and that his supervisor said Virginia officers should arrest them because authorities in Pennsylvania had issued arrest warrants for the two on homicide charges.

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 34, are charged with homicide in the January 2007 death of Bryan Kocis, their rival in the gay pornography industry. Police said Kocis, 44, was stabbed to death in his Dallas Township home, which was then set on fire. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.

The two were pulled over five miles from their home and taken into custody. Their vehicle was later searched by Virginia authorities and certain items were seized. One of the items taken from their vehicle, according to court records, was a knife.

Childress said that he had signed search warrants for Cuadra’s and Kerekes’ home and vehicles to coincide with his RICO investigation, and that he didn’t notice until a suppression hearing in Luzerne County court in September regarding the same matter that the dates on the search warrant were incorrect.

Childress said the search warrants were issued by a Virginia circuit court judge on May 14, but the date next to signatures is May 16, which means the vehicle was searched before the warrants were signed.

Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Leo Hannon also testified Thursday that a Luzerne County district magistrate signed arrest warrants for Cuadra and Kerekes at around 9:30 a.m. on May 15 and that he didn’t know Virginia police obtained the knife until after he arrived in Virginia later in the day.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski, Jr., said Thursday that he was “confused” by Childress’ story, stating that the detective cited three different reasons for the traffic stop.

“It’s a very simple question,” Olszewski said. “Why did Virginia Beach police execute the stop?” Olszewski said he wanted Childress to clarify whether police made the stop at the command of their boss, because Cuadra was seen leaving his residence with a small bag instead of luggage, or if Childress did not know why the vehicle was stopped.

“It was stopped because (my supervisor) said there were arrest warrants issued for them from Pennsylvania…,” Childress said.

Attorneys asked Childress if he followed Virginia Beach Police Department policy when conducting inventory searches of Cuadra’s and Kerekes’ home and vehicle, when the knife was seized as evidence.

Cuadra’s attorney, Michael Senape, said the forms used to record property did not coincide with policies that officers were to follow.

“At some point when you found the knife, did you say, ‘Oh, this is now evidence,’ ” Senape asked Childress. “Yes,” Childress replied, stating that he and two other officers who were searching the vehicle decided it wasn’t personal property because of the Pennsylvania investigation.