Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cuadra's Trial Starts this Morning...

Update 7:00 AM: The Citizens' Voice says: Slumped into the wooden bench 15 feet behind her son, Harlow Cuadra’s mother cupped her face in her hands and wept as the woman explained why she couldn’t be the 12th juror in the capital homicide trial.

“I just can’t believe he did it,” the 99th potential juror said Monday morning before Judge Peter Paul Olzsewski Jr. “He looks like a kid.”

Luzerne County prosecutors will begin their case today, trying to prove that despite his small stature and appearance, 27-year-old Cuadra killed Bryan Charles Kocis at his Dallas Township home in 2007, stabbing Kocis 28 times in the torso before setting fire to his Midland Drive home.

Opening statements will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the trial expected to last about three weeks.

It took five days to reach a jury panel of eight women and four men, as well as four alternate jurors, three men and one woman. Prosecution and defense attorneys interviewed 122 potential jurors individually.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick will give the prosecution’s opening statement. He will outline the commonwealth’s case that Cuadra plotted to kill Kocis, 44, a rival pornography producer in order to lure an actor to his own pornography business. Cuadra operated the business with his partner Joseph Kerekes, 35 in Virginia Beach, Va. Kerekes, who pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide and is serving a life sentence, will not testify during the trial.

Melnick and his fellow prosecutors, with more than 100 witnesses, will present a meticulously detailed case they hope will point to Cuadra as Kocis’ killer. Witnesses are expected to testify on everything from forensic evidence at the crime scene, to the location of Cuadra the night Kocis was killed, as well as a supposed admission by Cuadra during a wire-tapped conversation at a nude beach in the La Jolla section of San Diego.

Cuadra, who could face the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree homicide, has remained quiet during the five days of jury selection, speaking rarely and almost exclusively to his attorneys. Occasionally Cuadra has turned from his chair at the defendant’s table to smile at his mother and sister who have watched most of the jury selection.

Kocis’ parents and sister, who have attended almost every hearing related to the case, sat in the front row of the courtroom as jury selection slowly moved through almost 25 hours of questioning.

Cuadra is represented by attorneys Joseph D’Andrea of Dunmore and Paul J. Walker of Scranton. Walker questioned potential jurors, focusing on any bias the jurors might have, particularly related to the death penalty or prejudice against homosexuals. D’Andrea will give the defense’s opening statement. None of the attorneys can comment to the media, because of an order by Olszewski, but the defense is expected to argue Cuadra couldn’t have committed the crime and point to Kerekes as the potential killer.

Update 2:14 AM: According to the Times Leader, prosecutors were moving computers, a projector screen and boxes of evidence into a Luzerne County courtroom Monday night in anticipation of Harlow Cuadra’s capital murder trial.

Opening arguments are set to begin this morning after five sluggish days of selecting 12 jurors and four alternates ended early Monday evening.

Cuadra, 27, could face the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree homicide in the killing of rival gay pornographic movie producer Bryan Kocis.

Investigators alleged Cuadra and his partner, Joseph Kerekes, 35, both from Virginia Beach, Va., killed Kocis, 44, in his Dallas Township home that they set on fire on Jan. 24, 2007.

Kerekes pleaded guilty on Dec. 8 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Kerekes pledged when he was sentenced that he won’t testify against Cuadra. He is jailed at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill.

Assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski have issued more than 150 subpoenas for witnesses to testify during the expected two- to three-week trial. Most of the witnesses are from other states, including a witness – Robert Wagner – from London, England.

Wagner was allegedly on the telephone speaking with Kocis prior to Kocis’ murder.

Prosecutors are expected to show the jury a number of crime scene and autopsy photographs, surveillance video of Cuadra and Kerekes buying a knife from a pawn shop, and play two recordings of conversations the two men had with Grant Roy and Sean Lockhart in San Diego, in April 2007.

Investigators allege Cuadra and Kerekes made several admissions during the conversations about the homicide and the way Kocis was killed, according to arrest records.

A recording device was placed on Roy when the four men met at a San Diego restaurant on April 27, 2007, and investigators installed a device in an electronic key chain when the four men visited a nude beach on April 28, 2007.

Roy and Lockhart are expected to testify. They were embattled in a federal civil lawsuit against Kocis’ company, Cobra Video, which was settled in January 2007.

Prosecutors allege Cuadra and Kerekes considered Kocis their rival in the gay porn industry, and wanted to film movies with Lockhart, who was under contract by Cobra Video.

The jury is expected to be shown e-mails Cuadra, under the name Danny Moilin, allegedly sent to Kocis.

Investigators allege Cuadra sent Kocis an application to become a model for Cobra Video, and agreed to meet on Jan. 24, 2007.

Cuadra is represented by attorneys Joseph D’Andrea and Paul Walker, who began defending him in December.

The Times Leader reports that opening arguments are set to begin Tuesday morning in the Luzerne County capital murder trial against Harlow Cuadra, 27, charged in the killing of rival gay pornographic movie producer Bryan Kocis.

Prosecutors and Cuadra's attorneys chose 12 jurors, and four alternates, in five days of selecting the jury that began last Tuesday.

The jury is made up of eight males and four females. The alternate jurors are made up of three males and one female. In the event a juror is excused for cause, an alternate juror will take their place.

Investigators alleged Cuadra and his partner, Joseph Kerekes, 35, both from Virginia Beach, Va., killed Kocis, 44, inside Kocis' home in Dallas Township on Jan. 24, 2007.

Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second degree murder, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. has scheduled opening arguments to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The Citizens' Voice is also reporting that all four alternates and 12 jurors in the capital murder case of Harlow Cuadra have been selected, and opening arguments will begin Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys interviewed 122 potential jurors to get the panel of eight men and four women. The four alternates are composed of three women and one man.

The panel will decide Cuadra's guilt or innocence in the January 2007 killing of Bryan Kocis, who was stabbed at his Dallas Township home before it was set on fire.

Jury selection started last Tuesday. The high publicity of the case, the possibility of the death penalty and potential bias against Cuadra, who worked in the gay pornography business, have all led to the slow pace of selecting a jury.

PC reports: I just got back from my flight/trip (11:48 PM Monday), and will be reporting as normal from today forward... my apologies for the slow reports over the past couple of days, but I did the best I could - remember, it was a vacation. :)