Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One Juror Selected in Cuadra Murder Trial

The Citizens' Voice reports that Harlow Cuadra wore a gray suit and purple shirt Tuesday to meet the people who could decide his fate.

“Good morning,” said Cuadra, standing at the defense table and waving to 125 potential jurors before jury selection began in his capital homicide case.

Cuadra, 27, of Virginia Beach, Va., is accused of killing Bryan Kocis and setting fire to his Dallas Township home in January 2007. Along with his former business partner Joseph Kerekes, who already pleaded guilty to second-degree homicide, Cuadra is accused of eliminating Kocis, a rival producer, in an attempt to lure an actor to their fledgling gay pornography business in Virginia Beach.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys interviewed 10 prospective jurors Tuesday afternoon, selecting only one — an older woman. Prosecutors dismissed three potential witnesses and Cuadra’s attorneys dismissed two; each side is allowed to dismiss 30 potential jurors from the pool. The other four potential jurors removed from the pool Tuesday were dismissed for medical reasons or potential conflicts.

Twelve jurors and four alternates will be selected in the next several days, Judge Peter Paul Olzsewski Jr. said. He told prospective jurors the trial, which he hopes will begin Monday, could last three weeks.

Each juror was questioned on familiarity with the high-profile case and his or her ability to ignore any previous knowledge obtained through media accounts. Jurors were also questioned on their opinions of the death penalty, as prosecutors are pursuing it against Cuadra.

Cuadra is accused of slashing Kocis’ neck, nearly decapitating him and stabbing his torso nearly 30 times. Kerekes, 35, who also faced the death penalty, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide in the case and is serving a life sentence.

Unrelated to jury selection, Olszewski ruled Tuesday afternoon that evidence seized from Cuadra’s BMW M5 sedan at the time of his May 2007 arrest, including a knife and laptop computer, can be used in the case.

Attorneys for Cuadra and Kerekes, before he pleaded guilty, had argued the evidence shouldn’t be used because it was seized by Virginia Beach police as part of a separate investigation. Virginia Beach police were investigating a prostitution ring, believed to be run by Cuadra and Kerekes. Olszewski dismissed Cuadra’s motion to suppress the evidence, writing that the evidence was gathered following “standard police procedures.”

Meanwhile, WBRE is saying prosecutors and defense attorneys Tuesday apparently could agree on just one candidate for their jury to hear the case of Bryan Kocis and the man accused of killing him. A total of 10 people were questioned. A full jury might not be seated until the end of the week.

Harlow Cuadra is charged with homicide. He asked for prayers while leaving the courthouse late Tuesday afternoon. Cuadra denies prosecutors' claims that he murdered the gay porn producer. Alleged partner Joseph Kerekes pleaded guilty to homicide in December and is behind bars for life. Cuadra could get the death penalty if convicted.