Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Harlow Cuadra's Trial... Day 1

6:02 PM: The Citizens' Voice also chimes in about Andrew Shunk... a former employee of Harlow Cuadra's gay pornography company testified Tuesday afternoon in Cuadra's capital homicide trial.

Andrew Joseph Shunk started working for Cuadra in September 2006, about five months before Bryan Charles Kocis was stabbed to death at his Back Mountain home. Cuadra was very interested in hiring Brent Corrigan, who had a contract Kocis at the time, Shunk said. Cuadra, along with Joseph Kerekes, owned gay pornography and prostitution businesses in Virginia Beach, Va.

"They thought bringing in Brent Corrigan would bring in a six-figure profit to the company," Shunk said.

Corrigan, the stage name for Sean Lockhart, was considered the "Tom Cruise" of the type of pornography Caudra and Kocis produced, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said.

Shunk said the plan was to hire Corrigan away from Kocis and pay him directly for a couple of scenes with Cuadra. Because Corrigan had a deal with Kocis, that wasn't possible at the time, Shunk said.

Shunk was the prosecution's eighth witness Tuesday. Cuadra, 27, is accused of killing Kocis, 44, at his Dallas Township home in January 2007, because Kocis was a rival producer of gay pornography films.

4:57 PM: According to Times Leader reports... Andrew Shunk, a former gay pornographic actor, testified that Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes wanted to produce movies with Sean Lockhart, known as Brent Corrigan in the industry.

"Cuadra wanted to do pornography films with Sean Lockhart," Shunk said. "(Cuadra and Kerekes) thought if they brought in Sean Lockhart, they would bring in six figures....and it would cause a youth phenomenon."

Shunk was the eighth witness to testify by prosecutors on the first day in Cuadra's capital murder trial on Tuesday. Cuadra is charged in the killing of rival gay pornography movie producer Bryan Kocis, 44, in Dallas Township on Jan. 24, 2007.

Investigators alleged Cuadra and his partner, Joseph Kerekes, 35, killed Kocis, whom they considered their rival in the gay pornography industry.

Shunk said Cuadra and Kerekes met Lockhart at an adult video awards ceremony in Las Vegas in mid-January 2007 where they discussed the business of fliming movies.

Shunk said Cuadra and Kerekes offered Lockhart $50,000 per scene.

Testimony concluded with eight witnesses called by prosecutors. The first seven witnesses established that Kocis was killed, and his identification was made by dental records.

The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.

3:56 PM: I'm told by a court watcher that so far there's been five witnesses, and the defense has only really cross examined two of them (more details to come later).

3:25 PM: The Times Leader reports that forensic pathologist Dr. Mary Pascucci testified Bryan Kocis was killed by a slashed neck, and suffered 28 stab wounds after he died.

Pascucci is the fifth witness called by prosecutors to testify on the first day of Harlow Cuadra's capital murder trial.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick showed the jury a series of autopsy photos, with Pascucci - using a laser pointer - detailing the slashed neck and stab wounds on Kocis' body.

"He was extremely charred, he had third degree burns on approximately 90 percent of the body," Pascucci said.

Forensic dentist Dr. John Hosage testified due to the extreme condition of the charred body, he positively identified Kocis by dental records provided by dentist Dr. John Evans, Kocis' dentist.

3:01 PM: A court watcher tells me that contrary to what some may have thought... the courtroom isn't packed at all. There's approximately 5 reporters, 10 members of the Kocis family and that’s really about it [unsure if Cuadra's mother and sister were there at the time].

2:52 PM: Sources are now telling me that Robert Wagner is not expected to testify today, perhaps tomorrow. Also, apparently two other witnesses for the prosecution missed their flight to Pennsylvania last night.

1:43 PM: According to the Citizens' Voice... prosecutors called their first three witnesses, before breaking for lunch, in the capital homicide trial of Harlow Cuadra. The 27-year-old is accused of killing Bryan Charles Kocis at his Dallas Township home in January 2007, because Kocis was a rival producer of gay pornography films.

Kocis was “nearly completely decapitated in one fell sweep, and his body was so badly burned that any DNA evidence was annihilated in a fierce blaze” that destroyed his Midland Drive home on January 24, 2007, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick told jurors Tuesday morning.

“These were the horror and heavy tidings given to the Kocis family in the new year,” Melnick said pointing to Cuadra, who could face the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree homicide.

Melnick’s opening statement Tuesday revealed the scope of the prosecution’s case they hope will prove Cuadra killed 44-year-old Kocis. During his one-hour and 24minute opening statement, Melnick cited numerous pieces of prosecution’s evidence and the three-month long investigation that led to the arrest of Cuadra and his partner Joseph Kerekes.

“This is a case that went from the waters of the Atlantic (Ocean) to the sands of the Pacific,” Melnick said.

Cuadra’s defense team of attorneys Joseph D’Andrea of Dunmore and Paul J. Walker of Scranton, are taking a different approach to the case.

“Our presentation and our theory is very simple and very precise,” D’Andrea said during his opening statement. “Harlow didn’t do it. This young man didn’t slash anyone’s throat, stab him 28 times or set his house on fire.”

D’Andrea called his client innocent and said that he was under a spell of Kerekes at the time of Kocis’ death. Kerekes, 35, co-owned a gay pornography and prostitution business with Cuadra in Virgina Beach, Va. Kerekes pleaded guilty to second-degree homicide in December and said he will not testify in this case.

“Joe was the dominant partner,” D’Andrea said. “Joe was controlling and he controlled Harlow, both on the personal and professional side… Joe Kerekes cared about one thing, getting ahead and that meant money…He prostituted his own lover, Harlow, to make money.”

D’Andrea, whose opening statement only lasted 15 minutes, urged jurors to not judge the case by the number of witness or their length of testimony. Instead, he said, look at the credibility of the case and for any potential doubt and who had the greater motive and ability to commit the crime, which suggested was Kerekes.

“I will tell you right now the commonwealth will have many more witnesses,” D’Andrea said. “This is not a case that will be judged by the number of witnesses or the length they testify.”

Computer evidence will show that Cuadra pretended to be a potential new gay pornography star named Danny Moilan in order to gain entrance to Kocis’ home, Melnick said. Kocis was very private and didn’t let his own family visit him without an appointment, Melnick. But Cuadra was able to gain access to the home, because he sent in photos and e-mails to Kocis, claiming he was a young man from King of Prussia, who wanted to start acting in pornography , Melnick said.

Cuadra killed Kocis, Melnick said in order to lure the “Tom Cruise of that type of gay porn,” Sean Lockhart, to his business. Lockhart was under contract with Kocis at the time, Melnick said. During a dinner in early January in Las Vegas with Cuadra, Kerekes, Lockhart and his business partner Grant Roy, Cuadra hinted at Kocis’ demise, Melnick said.

Cuadra told Roy that “If you’re going to do that, then maybe I can have Bryan Kocis go to Canada,” Melnick said during his opening statement.

Melnick also read from wiretapped conversations Cuadra allegedly had with Lockhart and Roy in April 2007 at a nude beach in the La Jolla section of San Diego.

Melnick read from the transcribed tape, telling jurors Cuadra said:

“It was quick, he never saw it coming…Actually seeing (Kocis) going down, made me feel better inside.”

Prosecutions first three witnesses —County Chief Deputy Coroner William Lisman, state police Corporal Thomas S. Wall and dentist Dr. John G. Evans—primarily testified to forensic evidence at the crime scene particularly related to dental records that verified the body found inside the charred Midland Drive home was Kocis. Shannon Crake, who along with fellow assistant district attorney Allyson Kacmarski is prosecuting the case with Melnick, examined Lisman during his testimony.

11:42 AM: The Times Leader is reporting that Attorney Joseph D'Andrea said Harlow Cuadra is "innocent" in the killing of Bryan Kocis, and shift blame to possibly three other people.

In his 15 minute opening statement to the jury that will ultimately decide Cuadra's fate, D'Andrea said Grant Roy and Sean Lockhart, and/or Joseph Kerekes had the ability to kill Kocis.

Prosecutors alleged Kocis, 44, was killed because he was considered a rival gay pornographic movie producer.

"Our defense is simple, Harlow didn't do it," D'Andrea said.

D'Andrea said Kocis and Lockhart, a contract model for Cobra Video, was engaged in a relationship that turned sour. Lockhart began a relationship with Roy, and the relationship with Kocis became "hostile," D'Andrea said.

"You'll hear testimony that Grant Roy and Sean Lockhart hated Bryan Kocis, they even wanted him dead," D'Andrea said.

D'Andrea described Cuadra's partner, Kerekes, as a dominant person who controlled Cuadra and was motivated by money.

"They (Kerekes and Cuadra) had a male escort business, a male prostitution business," D'Andrea said. "It was money that motivated Joseph Kerekes...(Kerekes) prostituted his lover Harlow to make money.

"Harlow sits here innocent and he has the protection of innocence throughout this trial."

After D'Andrea's opening statement to the jury, assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmanski began their attempt to convict Cuadra of first degree homicide.

Their first witness, Chief Deputy Coroner William Lisman, is testifying about finding Kocis' body inside his home at 60 Midland Drive, Dallas Township, on Jan. 24, 2007, and the attempts that positively identified Kocis.

11:38 AM: Sources tell me that Robert Wagner is in the courthouse, ready to testify for the prosecution... unsure if he'll be the first witness called though.

11:14 AM: The Times Leader reports this morning that Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick didn't hold back during his opening argument on the first day of Harlow Cuadra's capital murder trial.

Melnick, who addressed the jury for exactly one hour, outlined the investigation that began at 8:34 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2007, when 911 received a call that Bryan Kocis' home on Midland Drive, Dallas Township, was on fire. He described in detail how Kocis suffered a fatal slashed throat that nearly decapitated him, 28 stab wounds after he died, and the investigation that centered on Cuadra and his partner, Joseph Kerekes, from "the waters of the Atlantic to the sands of the Pacific."

"It was all for a buck," Melnick said at the end of his opening argument.

Investigators alleged Cuadra and Kerekes wanted to work with Sean Lockhart, a contract model for Kocis' company, Cobra Video.

Cuadra's lawyers, Joseph D'Andrea and Paul Walker, have the option to give an opening argument to the jury.

11:08 AM: The Citizens' Voice reports that the prosecution gives opening argument in Cuadra murder trial:

Bryan Charles Kocis was nearly completely decapitated, and his body so badly burned that any DNA evidence was annihilated in the fierce blaze that destroyed his Dallas Township home on Jan. 24, 2007, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick told jurors this morning.

“These were the horror and heavy tidings given to the Kocis family in the new year,” Melnick said pointing to Harlow Cuadra, who could face the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree homicide.

Melnick’s opening statement lasted one hour and 24 minutes this morning, as he detailed the case against Cuadra, 27. He is accused of killing Kocis, 44, a gay pornography producer, to eliminate him as a competitor.

Melnick described computer and cellular phone evidence, placing Cuadra, of Virginia Beach, Va., in Kocis’ neighborhood at the time of killing. He also referenced wiretapped conversations between Cuadra and others in which Cuadra allegedly admits to knowledge of the crime.

“It was quick. He never saw it coming,” Melnick said, quoting Cuadra. “Actually seeing (Kocis) going down, made me feel better inside.”

Kocis’ mother, seated in the front row in the courtroom, cried as Melnick described how Kocis died. Cuadra scribbled notes in a yellow legal pad as Melnick spoke.

Defense attorney Joseph D’Andrea of Dunmore will give his opening statement when jurors return to the courtroom and the prosecution will call its first witness.

8:36 AM: Sources in the courtroom tell me that Harlow Cuadra's trial is scheduled to begin in about 10 minutes. Stay tuned for further updates throughout the day.