Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Harlow Cuadra has Left the Building...

Convicted murder Harlow Cuadra has officially left Luzerne County, and will now be residing at SCI Camp Hill, which is just across the river from Harrisburg, PA. Here... Harlow will spend the next four to six weeks undergoing the standard diagnostic and classification process, where he'll be tested for mental, physical, and emotional problems so he can receive a correctional plan (more about the procedure can be found here).

SCI Camp Hill

Once the diagnostic process is completed, Harlow will be given a classification level, and only then will a determination be made as to which SCI facility he'll carry out his double-life sentence. If I had to guess... it'll be either SCI Greene, SCI Graterford, or SCI Frackville... all maximum-security prisons.

Harlow's inmate number should be known by tomorrow morning, and I'll post it as soon as it's made available.

Update @ 04/01/2009: Harlow Cuadra's Inmate Number: HZ1869

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Trip of a Lifetime (x2)...

On March 16, 2009, Harlow Cuadra was sentenced to two life sentences without parole for the brutal slaying of Bryan Kocis. Judge Peter Paul Olszewski, Jr., ordered that Harlow be sent to an SCI (State Correctional Institution) within 10 days of his sentence (but he wasn't) ... though from the words of a 'source':

'Just because the judge orders a transfer within so many days does not mean it necessarily happens that quickly. There's a lot of paperwork that has to be updated, and commitment forms need to be created. In addition... the jail transfers inmates twice a week, and they can only take so many at a time... so if there were a lot of SCI sentences in one particular week... they get backed up.'

Harlow Cuadra will be going to SCI Camp Hill on Tuesday... it's also my hope that we'll have a prison number for him on that day too... I'll report it accordingly.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Appeals Process

Now that Harlow Cuadra's been found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison, he's faced with two choices. Cuadra can either accept his fate, or try his luck at getting a reduced charge/sentence, new trial, or acquittal by filing an appeal. If Harlow chooses to file an appeal, here's the steps that must be taken:

Rule 720. Post-Sentencing Procedures; Appeal.

(A) TIMING.

(1) Except as provided in paragraphs (C) and (D), a written post-sentence motion shall be filed no later than 10 days after imposition of sentence.

(2) If the defendant files a timely post-sentence motion, the notice of appeal shall be filed:

(a) within 30 days of the entry of the order deciding the motion;

(b) within 30 days of the entry of the order denying the motion by operation of law in cases in which the judge fails to decide the motion; or

(c) within 30 days of the entry of the order memorializing the withdrawal in cases in which the defendant withdraws the motion.

(3) If the defendant does not file a timely post-sentence motion, the defendant’s notice of appeal shall be filed within 30 days of imposition of sentence, except as provided in paragraph (A)(4).

(4) If the Commonwealth files a timely motion to modify sentence pursuant to Rule 721, the defendant’s notice of appeal shall be filed within 30 days of the entry of the order disposing of the Commonwealth’s motion.

(B) OPTIONAL POST-SENTENCE MOTION.

(1) Generally.

(a) The defendant in a court case shall have the right to make a post-sentence motion. All requests for relief from the trial court shall be stated with specificity and particularity, and shall be consolidated in the post-sentence motion, which may include:

(i) a motion challenging the validity of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or the denial of a motion to withdraw a plea of guilty or nolo contendere;

(ii) a motion for judgment of acquittal;

(iii) a motion in arrest of judgment;

(iv) a motion for a new trial; and/or

(v) a motion to modify sentence.

(b) The defendant may file a supplemental post-sentence motion in the judge’s discretion as long as the decision on the supplemental motion can be made in compliance with the time limits of paragraph (B)(3).

(c) Issues raised before or during trial shall be deemed preserved for appeal whether or not the defendant elects to file a post-sentence motion on those issues.

(2) Trial Court Action.

(a) Briefing Schedule

Within 10 days after a post-sentence motion is filed, if the judge determines that briefs or memoranda of law are required for a resolution of the motion, the judge shall schedule a date certain for the submission of briefs or memoranda of law by the defendant and the Commonwealth.

(b) Hearing; Argument

The judge shall also determine whether a hearing or argument on the motion is required, and if so, shall schedule a date or dates certain for one or both.

(c) Transcript

If the grounds asserted in the post-sentence motion do not require a transcript, neither the briefs nor hearing nor argument on the post-sentence motion shall be delayed for transcript preparation.

(3) Time Limits for Decision on Motion.

The judge shall not vacate sentence pending decision on the post-sentence motion, but shall decide the motion as provided in this paragraph.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (B)(3)(b), the judge shall decide the post-sentence motion, including any supplemental motion, within 120days of the filing of the motion. If the judge fails to decide the motion within 120 days, or to grant an extension as provided in paragraph (B)(3)(b), the motion shall be deemed denied by operation of law.

(b) Upon motion of the defendant within the 120-day disposition period, for good cause shown, the judge may grant one 30-day extension for decision on the motion. If the judge fails to decide the motion within the 30-day extension period, the motion shall be deemed denied by operation of law.

(c) When a post-sentence motion is denied by operation of law, the clerk of courts shall forthwith enter an order on behalf of the court, and, as provided in Rule 114, forthwith shall serve a copy of the order on the attorney for the Commonwealth, the defendant’s attorney, or the defendant if unrepresented, that the post-sentence motion is deemed denied. This order is not subject to reconsideration.

(d) If the judge denies the post-sentence motion, the judge promptly shall issue an order and the order shall be filed and served as provided in Rule 114.

(e) If the defendant withdraws a post-sentence motion, the judge promptly shall issue an order memorializing the withdrawal, and the order shall be filed and served as provided in Rule 114.

(4) Contents of Order.

An order denying a post-sentence motion, whether issued by the judge pursuant to paragraph (B)(3)(d) or entered by the clerk of courts pursuant to paragraph (B)(3)(c), or an order issued following a defendant’s withdrawal of the post-sentence motion, shall include notice to the defendant of the following:

(a) the right to appeal and the time limits within which the appeal must be filed;

(b) the right to assistance of counsel in the preparation of the appeal;

(c) the rights, if the defendant is indigent, to appeal in forma pauperis and to proceed with assigned counsel as provided in Rule 122; and

(d) the qualified right to bail under Rule 521(B).

(C) AFTER-DISCOVERED EVIDENCE.

A post-sentence motion for a new trial on the ground of after-discovered evidence must be filed in writing promptly after such discovery.

(D) SUMMARY CASE APPEALS.

There shall be no post-sentence motion in summary case appeals following a trial de novo in the court of common pleas. The imposition of sentence immediately following a determination of guilt at the conclusion of the trial de novo shall constitute a final order for purposes of appeal.

Source: The Pennsylvania Code

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Harlow gets his Court Bill

When Harlow Cuadra was found guilty on March 12, 2009 of first-degree murder, a jury later sentenced him to two life terms in prison without parole. On Monday, Judge Peter Paul Olszewski, Jr. ordered Harlow to pay $2766.08 in funeral costs to the estate of Bryan Kocis, and $250 for the homeowner’s insurance deductible. Harlow was also ordered to pay court costs, which at the time was unknown. Well that bill just came in this morning, and it totals $746.25:

Witness Fees (Luzerne) $24.25
State Court Cost (Act 204 of 1976) $11.50
Commonwealth Cost - HB627 (Act 167 of 1992) $17.30
County Court Costs (Act 204 of 1976) $25.20
Crime Victims Compensation (Act 96 of 1984) $35.00
Domestic Violence Compensation (Act 44 of 1988) $10.00
Victim Witness Services (Act 111 of 1998) $25.00
Firearm Education and Training Fund (158 of 1994) $5.00
JCP $8.00
ATJ $2.00
DNA Fund Cost $250.00
Clerk of Court Filing Fee (Luzerne) $120.00
Automation Fee (LCAP) (Luzerne) $5.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
LC Cost Additional Count (Luzerne) $26.00
Costs/Fees Totals: $746.25
Grand Totals: $746.25

Monday, March 23, 2009

Brief Update...

1. Judge PPO has granted a prosecution request that Harlow Cuadra pay restitution for funeral expenses related to the death of Bryan Kocis... I'm fairly certain it'll be equal to the $2766.08 that Joe has already been ordered to pay.

2. 14 orders have been unsealed for Joseph Kerekes... but as of this post, none of the sealed orders filed by the DA's office have been unsealed... so it looks like we'll have to wait.

... more later.

Update @ 6:22 PM: Sources now tell me that PPO ordered that Cuadra pay $3,016.08 in restitution to Kocis' estate for funeral and estate expenses. The order also says that Joseph D'Andrea [Harlow's attorney] was in agreement with this figure.

Update @ 7:13 PM: I'm told that some of Joesph Kerekes' unsealed documents revealed that there was also some mention of him writing unsolicited letters to Demitrius Fannick. Fannick wanted that to stop.... he was not council of record...and Joe said that all Fannick ever wanted was money. PPO cautioned everyone, and spelled it out loud and clear for Joseph Kerekes that he needed to stop all the BS.

Update @ 9:50 PM: There was also a transcript of proceedings that were held behind closed doors with Joseph Kerekes and his attorneys Bufalino, Centini , etc... the hearing was because Bufalino wanted to make PPO aware that Joseph Kerekes was not following their advice, and is becoming his own worst enemy by communicating with both Renee Martin and Harlow Cuadra. His defense was that he needs to communicate with Renee Martin because she is his support financially, and his parents couldn't support him that way.

Update @ 03/25/2009: The Times Leader is reporting that Joseph Kerekes did a lot of talking and writing, so much that his lawyers raised concerns about it to a Luzerne County judge behind closed doors.

A transcript of the closed-door court hearing held Feb. 20, 2008, was one of several sealed court records in the Bryan Kocis’ homicide case that were opened to the public late Monday afternoon.

Attorneys Mark Bufalino, John Pike and Shelley Centini requested a closed hearing with Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. in February 2008 to express concerns their client, Kerekes, was writing letters to Renee Martin, of Texas, and attorney Demetrius Fannick about defense strategy. At the time, Kerekes and Cuadra were facing the homicide charges.

The judge, the three attorneys, Kerekes, Olszewski’s law clerk, a court reporter and several sheriff deputies were the only people in the courtroom that was closed to the public and prosecutors.

According to the transcript of the hearing, Kerekes’ attorneys said they were in an awkward position and felt useless in defending Kerekes because they felt he was releasing confidential information. Pike told the judge that Kerekes had ignored their advice to keep quiet.

“There has been multiple third-party communications by our client with people involved and not involved with this case despite our significant warnings,” Pike said. “It has come to our attention that some of this information may have come into the hands of the District Attorney’s Office. …”

Authorities obtained the letters Kerekes had written to Martin, who formerly resided near Kerekes and Cuadra in Virginia Beach, Va. Kerekes also wrote a letter to Fannick, who, in turn, gave it to Pike.

“Attorney Fannick forwarded me a letter that he got from our client with the request that I inform our client not to communicate with him anymore, that (Fannick) is not his counsel,” Pike told Olszewski.

Fannick had met with Kerekes at least eight times at the Luzerne County prison, prior to Fannick’s brief representation of Cuadra. Fannick was eventually disqualified in March 2008 from representing Cuadra.

Olszewski warned Kerekes that releasing information protected by the attorney-client privilege would jeopardize his defense. Kerekes responded, according to the transcript, that he understood Olszewski’s warnings.

So What Happens to Harlow Cuadra Now?

Harlow Cuadra

Now that Harlow Cuadra has been found guilty of first-degree murder for the brutal slaying of Bryan Kocis, he'll be spending the rest of his natural life (x2) behind bars. So what's he got to look forward to... well... within the next few days... the same thing his partner in crime Joseph Kerekes has already been experiencing:

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A PERSON IS INCARCERATED IN A PENNSYLVANIA STATE PRISON?

When an inmate enters into the Department, the diagnostic and classification process begins. This means that the inmate is tested for mental, physical, and emotional problems so that he can receive a correctional plan. It also shows the inmate’s strengths, such as his education, skills, and emotional stability.

A male inmate coming into the Department will go through the State Correctional Facility at either Graterford, Pittsburgh, or Camp Hill; however, every man is classified at the Diagnostic and Classification Center in Camp Hill. The whole diagnostic and classification process takes about four to six weeks. A newly committed inmate is separated from the general population inmates during this time.

When an inmate first arrives into the Diagnostic and Classification Center the Reception staff does the following:

• looks over the identification of the new inmate,
• makes sure all the paperwork is in order, and
• calculates what the inmate's sentence should be, based on the length of the sentence, how much time the inmate has already served and other factors.

The inmate is searched to make sure that no contraband is being brought into the facility. He is photographed and fingerprinted. The inmate will also get special clothing that identifies him from a general population inmate as a new, unclassified inmate.

The inmate is assigned a corrections counselor and is given his first cell assignment. He will also get an Inmate Handbook which explains the rules about inmate behavior, inmate grooming, telephone calls and religious programs.

Many tests are performed before putting the inmate in population with other inmates. The initial medical screening rules out obvious medical problems, emotional problems, and TB. The staff also give tests that tell if the inmate has a mental illness. The inmate takes IQ tests and tests that measure educational achievement. A new inmate will also take a test that tells if he has a problem with drugs or alcohol and how serious the problem is.

The inmate is also interviewed by other treatment professionals. Interviews by corrections counselors, psychologists, drug and alcohol treatment specialists, chaplains, educators, and medical staff help to decide what treatment or education the inmate needs and how closely he needs to be supervised. An inmate covered by the DNA Detection of Sexual and Violent Offenders Act are required to have a blood sample taken, which is sent to the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP).

CLASSIFICATION AND CUSTODY LEVEL

After all the tests and interviews are completed, the inmate is assigned a custody level. The custody level determines the amount of security needed to manage the inmate. In addition, a Needs Assessment is completed which tells the prison staff what needs the inmate’s needs are in treatment and education.

The find out what needs the inmate has and to determine what custody level is right for him, the Pennsylvania Additive Classification Tool (PACT) is used. The PACT is a series of questions, and each question’s answer has a score that when added together given a total that tells what custody level is recommended for that inmate.

The inmate may be assigned a custody level of 2, 3, or 4. Custody level 2 means that the inmate is suitable for a minimum security facility. Custody level 3 is medium security and custody level 4 is close security. There are special situations where the inmate may need less security or much more security than is available in these 3 levels.

Custody level I is only used for an inmate being placed into a Community Corrections Center. Custody level 5 is used for an inmate who needs maximum security and is placed in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU), Special Management Unit (SMU), and Long-Term Segregation Unit (LTSU). If the inmate needs to be in one of these custody levels, the corrections counselor will request what is called a classification override. If the Department’s Central Office agrees that it is justified, the inmate will receive the special custody level.

When all of this is completed, a Classification Summary is developed for use by the staff at the facility in working with the inmate. The summary includes the following information: a photo, description of what the inmate looks like, problem areas, an official version and an inmate version of the crime, criminal history, how the inmate functioned during his time in prison, education and work history, social history, medical information, the inmate’s sentence, custody level and needs assessment information.

The Classification Summary makes sure that the prison staff has a complete picture of the individual inmate. This is important in order for the inmate to get the most benefit from his time spent in prison and helps the classification counselor know what the inmate needs as far as treatment and education.

When the Classification Summary is complete, the facility staff meet and decide which facility best meets the educational, treatment, and security needs of the inmate. One factor that is considered is whether the inmate has enemies in a facility who may wish to harm him so that the inmate can be kept safely away from them. The facts of the report of enemies must be verified. Another factor that decides placement is where space is available at that time.

The inmate’s custody level is reviewed with him every year of his sentence. If the inmate maintains proper behavior, works and actively participates in recommended programs, he will generally be assigned to the less restrictive housing. If the inmate achieves custody level 2 for 12 months and is within two years of parole review, he can apply to the Unit Management Team in his facility for consideration for a promotional transfer to his home region. A life sentenced inmate in custody level 2 and 3, who completed ten years of his sentence and meets the criteria may apply for promotional transfer to his home region. The inmate must comply with promotional level 2 criteria to apply for a hardship transfer.

Source: Prison Handbook for Families and Friends

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Interview: One Juror's Thoughts...

Last night, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours interviewing one of the juror's of Harlow Cuadra's murder trial... while I'm not going to post the entire interview online, I'll offer a few interesting quotes/observations:

'Harlow's mother was annoying.'

Found it odd that 'Harlow's mother couldn't speak English on the stand, but had no problem doing so in front of the cameras.'

After the trial the juror heard from a source that 'Joe's lawyer had him call his mother before taking the stand to testify for Harlow'.

After the trial the juror heard from a source that 'one of Harlow's attorney's apparently asked the prosecution for a deal: 3rd degree/30 years... and thought the DA's office wanted the trial for publicity'.

'Harlow was really crying while on the stand (for a while) but you could tell it was an act... then he started yelling. He was erratic... one minute he goes in to the porn thing, then changes to a completely different subject. He yelled at Melnick several times.'

'Harlow would say Joseph... then Joe when he was mad.'

Thinks Harlow was the killer... 'houses too close for a gun'. 'Joe does most of the looting while Harlow cleans up'.

'Harlow and Joe's debt was never brought up'

'Nep admitted to having sex with Joe... we wondered if they had to flip a coin... meanwhile Matthew Brannon said he had a 3-some with Joe and Harlow.'

More interviews to come...

Over 112k Spent to Convict Cuadra and Kerekes

According to the Times Leader, Luzerne County prosecutors spent more than $112,317 to put Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes away for life.

It was a very expensive prosecution,” District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll said. “We have to do these cases just right because we have the burden of proof. With that being said, we kept the cost as manageable as possible.”

The two Virginia Beach, Va., men were accused in the killing of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township in January 2007. Cuadra, 27, was convicted by a jury on March 12 of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole. Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and is serving life in prison.

Musto Carroll said prosecution costs included transportation, lodging and meal expenses for witnesses residing outside Pennsylvania, in addition to a number of exhibits presented to the jury during Cuadra’s trial.

“Antonia Ardo and our chief detective, Michael Dessoye, did a phenomenal job in lining up witnesses and taking care of travel arrangements,” Musto Carroll said. “That alone was a great undertaking.”

Ardo is the office administrator for Musto Carroll.

Several witnesses after they were finished testifying were immediately transported from the courthouse to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. From there, they either flew directly home or were flown to Philadelphia International Airport to catch another flight.

“When (assistant district attorney) Michael Melnick would tell me what he needed, he was given what he needed to do the job right,” Musto Carroll said. “I don’t think this case was harmed in any way by us not doing a certain test or calling experts that were needed. In a fiscally responsible way, we let our experts know that we don’t have money to burn.”

County commissioners gave the district attorney’s office more money in 2009 to help off-set the high cost to prosecute capital murder cases and consult experts.

According to the 2009 budget for the district attorney’s office, $100,000 is set aside for capital cases and $350,000 is set aside for examinations/witnesses. By comparison, there was no money for capital cases and $179,800 for examinations/witnesses for the district attorney’s office in 2008.

“(Commissioners) responded to us in our time of need and thankfully, we’re able to afford this case,” Musto Carroll said. ‘But we have to watch every penny because it’s only March.”
---

Meanwhile, in another Times Leader article... Luzerne County taxpayers have so far paid more than $25,320 to defend two Virginia men for the killing of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township in January 2007, according to unsealed court records.

A detective agency was paid more than three times than what was initially allocated by a Luzerne County judge for investigative work in the capital murder case of Harlow Cuadra.

The Jesse Detective Agency of Dallas was paid $4,497.50 by the county controller’s office in early January, $3,497 more than the $1,000 approved by Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. in July, according to court records unsealed late Thursday afternoon.

Cuadra’s former attorneys, Stephen Menn and Michael Senape, requested to hire a detective agency to “interview defense witnesses and conduct general investigations,” as part of their defense.

Olszewski approved the request, allowing Menn and Senape to hire the Jesse Detective Agency at an hourly rate of $50 per hour for a total amount not to exceed $1,000, court records say.

Olszewski on Friday said it’s common for detective agencies to be court-appointed upon request to assist conflict lawyers defending capital murder cases.

Olszewski said he approved the much higher payment because capital murder cases require more investigative work than non-capital cases. He approved the payment only after he reviewed the detective agency’s bill, Olszewski said.

The Jesse Detective Agency submitted a bill for 75 hours of work and 1,495 miles driven at $.50 cents per mile

“The Jesse Detective Agency is always fair and reasonable with their costs,” Olszewski said. “I found it reasonable considering it was a capital murder case.”

Cuadra, 27, was convicted by a jury on March 12 in the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis, 44, in Dallas Township in January 2007. Cuadra was sentenced on Monday to life in prison without any chance for parole. A co-defendant in the case, Joseph Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty in December and is serving a life sentence.

Menn and Senape were permitted by Olszewski to withdraw from Cuadra’s case in December.

A payment of $7,546.20 was authorized in December to Court Consultation Services, of New York, for mitigation work on Cuadra’s behalf.

CCS Director Louise Luck testified during the penalty phase of Cuadra’s trial. She researched Cuadra’s history by interviewing relatives and employers.

Olszewski further approved payment not to exceed $3,000 to Dr. Richard Bohn Krueger, hired to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Cuadra. Krueger didn’t testify during Cuadra’s trial.

The three payments are the latest court orders that were unsealed.

Olszewski had previously approved more than $10,280 in payments for Kerekes’ defense.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sealed no More...

03/19/2009 Order of Court filed. All Unsealed Orders to be Unsealed Immediately. Olszewski, Peter Paul Jr.

This might be interesting... or it might not be... more later.

Update: 03/20/2009 @ 10:38 AM: Sources tell me that the sealed orders that are to be unsealed are currently for Harlow Cuadra only, and there are some 'issues' with a few of them, so not everything has been unsealed yet. I'll try to have more information later today.

Update 03/20/2009 @ 2:07 PM: PPO has ordered to unseal orders for both Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bryan Kocis' Sister Comments...

Bryan Kocis' sister Melody was gracious enough to comment on my blog earlier today, and after reading her comment, I feel that it's only appropriate to make it a separate post (I certainly hope the family doesn't mind me doing so):
---

After reading this blog, and living this nightmare for the past 2 years, I feel compelled to say something now that the gag order is lifted and the trial is over.

It has been a long horrible road. I’ve lost my best friend/brother to a crime that was so brutal, thoughtless and senseless that it makes me sick. It should have never happened. Our family will never be the same again, he was the best son, brother and uncle anyone could ever ask for. He never once disrespected any of us. No one deserves to die like Bryan did, and no family deserves to go through what we have.

I have read PC’s blog for the past two years and appreciate the accuracy of his posts. It truly amazed me how some people would blog and think their opinions were fact, or some bloggers believed lies from others and accepted that as fact. I’ve regretted not being able to speak out for my brother, but I know people will believe what they want anyway.

Those of us who have been fortunate to be in Bryan’s life know what a kind, caring, loving, generous and loyal person he was, and for those of you who didn’t know him it’s your loss. Bryan was a good, honest person in a bad, dishonest business. He was known for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. Bryan made mistakes, but he was a victim of horrible crime, and it was sad how many people forgot that.

Sean Lockhart was Bryan’s biggest mistake. He cared for Sean very much, and Sean did nothing but hurt him. I was with Bryan when Sean told him he wasn’t coming back to finish his contract with Cobra, and that he was starting his own company. Bryan just bought him a car. I will never forget how upset Bryan was. Unfortunately Bryan is not here to tell his side of the story. Bryan also told me how he made up with Sean before he died, and because Sean was a very good witness and helpful to the case I will let go of the past. I know Sean and Grant did not commit this murder, and my family appreciates their testimony.

I am very grateful to Bryan’s good friends who have been there for us since the beginning, and I hope to stay close with them in the future. They have been a huge source of comfort.

When I spoke with Robert I was disappointed Harlow didn’t received the death penalty, but after thinking about how much weight Harlow lost to “look the part” for this trial I realized how he will be eaten alive in State Prison. Joe looked horrible after a couple of months, but at least he still had some muscle on him to defend himself. Harlow won’t be able to do that. I also like Robert’s postcard idea...lol!!!

I would also like to add that at least Joe had the decency to apologize to us for not stopping the murder, and he didn't make us go through a trial. Harlow thought the twelve jurors would believe his lies like others did, but he was very wrong. We felt sorry for his family until they were very disrespectful and mean to us and the jury. His dysfunctional upbringing is not an excuse for what he did to my brother.

Bryan had a wonderful childhood, he had a family that cared deeply about him, and we never spent anytime apart…..until this. After watching my parents cry hysterically holding their son’s ashes, and having to go through his burnt belongings or just the crime itself, it is just sad Harlow couldn’t apologize to us, but that just goes to show you who and what he really is. He only cares about himself.

I couldn’t possibly name everyone, but I would like to thank everyone that helped bring this case to justice and for those that supported us. We will never forget.

Melody

Jurors: Cuadra Sealed own Fate

The Times Leader is reporting that if it wasn’t for a cigarette break, the Harlow Cuadra trial could have ended in a mistrial, two jurors said Tuesday, a day after the 27-year-old from Virginia was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Bryan Kocis.

Thomas Stavitzski, juror No. 11, and James Scutt III, juror No. 12, said there were four jurors who weren’t convinced Cuadra actually killed Kocis, but rather believed that Joseph Kerekes, 35, was the murderer.

Both men said that, for them, it was Cuadra’s own testimony that ultimately sealed his fate.

Stavitzski and Scutt detailed what went on behind closed doors when the jury deliberated Cuadra’s fate after the 12-day trial and during the penalty phase.

Stavitzski said that during a break in deliberating on Thursday, several jurors went outside to have a cigarette, including the four jurors who weren’t convinced Cuadra killed Kocis.

“The jurors went out for a smoke, and when they returned, one of them told us she thought about the case when she was outside for a cigarette and came to agree (Cuadra) was guilty,” Stavitzski said. “The other jurors who had doubt then came around.”

“There were four jurors who thought it could have been Joe,” Scutt said. “You had no direct evidence, no DNA linking (Cuadra) to the murder. There was so much circumstantial evidence. There were several that couldn’t put the knife in his hand.”

Stavitzski and Scutt said they also had doubt Cuadra actually killed Kocis until Cuadra testified in his own defense. “To me, he solidified the whole case,” Scutt said.

“Harlow wasn’t answering the direct questions,” Stavitzski said. “In my mind, the evidence was circumstantial; he turned it into hard evidence. He was talking in circles.”

Attorney Joseph D’Andrea, who along with attorney Paul Walker represented Cuadra, said on Monday that having Cuadra testify “did more harm than he did good.”

D’Andrea added he would have had Cuadra testify if given the opportunity a second time.

Stavitzski said he noticed Cuadra wearing glasses and oversized shirts during the trial. When Cuadra testified, Stavitzski said, Cuadra immediately took off the glasses and kept them off.

“He basically looked like a kid sitting there at the table,” Stavitzski said. “But as soon as he took the stand, he took off the glasses and he sounded like Hulk Hogan giving a wrestling interview. He had more holes in his testimony than Swiss cheese.”

Throughout the trial, Cuadra’s attorneys shifted blame for Kocis’ murder onto Kerekes, suggesting Kerekes was the more dominant one in the relationship between him and Cuadra. Stavitzski and Scutt said that argument worked on several jurors, but not with them.

“Their relationship was brought up a lot in deliberations,” Stavitzski said. “Joe was more muscle but Harlow was the brains.”

“As far as Joe being dominant and Harlow acting as the housewife, I found that hard to believe,” Scutt said.

Kerekes briefly appeared during the trial under a subpoena issued by Cuadra’s lawyers. When he took the witness stand, Kerekes opted not to testify on Cuadra’s behalf.

“Harlow gave (Kerekes) a look to kill,” Stavitzski said. Had Kerekes testified, Stavitzski and Scutt said it wouldn’t have mattered.

“I would have taken into consideration his credibility,” Stavitzski said. “What did he have to lose, he had nothing to gain. For what he did, I have to respect him for telling the truth.”

Kerekes said from the witness stand on March 10: “I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents. I think it will destroy them to say something that I didn’t do. What I told you (D’Andrea) is untrue.”

D’Andrea informed the jury that he met Kerekes several times before Kerekes’ appearance during the trial.

“I think Joe told the truth on the witness stand,” Scutt said.

Stavitzski said testimony from forensic pathologist Dr. Mary Pascucci, who performed Kocis’ autopsy, was powerful in explaining Kocis suffered a single swipe from a knife that nearly decapitated him.

“She explained it was one swipe that ended Bryan’s life,” Stavitzski said. “Harlow’s description of Joe storming in and fighting with Bryan, and slashing his neck twice and Bryan is still talking was just unbelievable.”

The two jurors said that if Kerekes and Kocis fought the way that Cuadra claimed the fight occurred, there would have been defensive wounds on Kocis’ arms.

“If someone is coming at you with a knife, what’s the first thing you do, you put up your arms,” Stavitzski said.

“Bryan didn’t have any injuries or stab wounds on his arms,” Scutt said.

Stavitzski said the relationship between Cuadra and Kerekes was solidified when assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski played to the jury recorded conversations of the two men with Lockhart and Grant Roy.

Roy, a producer of gay pornographic films based in San Diego, Calif., wore a body wire on two consecutive days when he met with Cuadra and Kerekes in late April 2007.

“Those tapes that were played, I got to know their mannerisms, I got to know what this whole case is about,” Stavitzski said. “Harlow did a lot of talking on those tapes; it showed me he was at the house.”

The jury deliberated for nearly three hours and 30 minutes before they reached a verdict convicting Cuadra. Scutt said the jury convicted Cuadra in three hours, and allowed 30 minutes for jurors to express their thoughts and opinions before they notified the court that a verdict had been reached.

During deliberations in the penalty phase, Scutt said, four jurors had difficulty in imposing capital punishment.

“We all agreed Harlow played a part in the murder as an accomplice, but those four couldn’t put the knife in his hands,” Scutt said. “It was an emotional trial, one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life.”
---
Additional Articles:

Juror’s faith in county justice system restored during Cuadra trial
Kocis’ parents still without closure

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cuadra Jury Deadlocked Before Discussing Death Penalty

Updated 03/18/09 @ 6:23 AM

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that Eight jurors put the knife in Harlow Cuadra’s hands.

Four couldn’t.

Because the jury could not unanimously decide whether Cuadra was the killer or the accomplice in Bryan Kocis’ murder, Cuadra was spared the death penalty Monday, two jurors of his homicide trial said Tuesday.

“No one knows who did the actual deed of slashing the man’s throat,” said Ellen Matulis, a grandmother and homemaker from Jenkins Township who served as Juror No. 1.

She was among the four jurors who believed Cuadra could’ve been the accomplice of Joseph Kerekes, Cuadra’s lover and business partner who previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the Kocis homicide.

A day after the jury deadlocked in the penalty phase of Cuadra’s homicide trial, Matulis and another juror spoke with The Citizens’ Voice about the sensational case and their deliberations as Cuadra’s life hung in the balance.

“I’d be a liar if I said voices weren’t raised. Obviously, if you got people who want a death penalty, it gets tense,” she said. “We carried a person’s life in our hands.”

Jurors deliberated in the penalty phase of Cuadra’s murder trial for nearly six hours Monday before telling Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. they were deadlocked on whether prosecutors proved an aggravating circumstance that would make Cuadra eligible for the death penalty. Olszewski then sentenced Cuadra to life in prison. The same jury on Thursday found Cuadra guilty of first-degree murder. In Pennsylvania, a defendant is guilty of the charge even if he was an accomplice.

Prosecutors alleged Cuadra was Kocis’ killer. They said he the one who slashed Kocis’ throat and stabbed him dozens of times inside his Dallas Township, home before setting the residence ablaze. Prosecutors said Cuadra and Kerekes conspired to kill Kocis, a rival gay pornography producer. At trial, the defense tried to pin the killing on Kerekes.

Images presented as evidence by the prosecution about the brutal murder will be seared in jurors’ minds forever, Matulis said.

“The shock of actually seeing some of this, it was mind boggling — seeing a burnt corpse, a heart cut with stab wounds …” Matulis said. “My life was changed and I wasn’t the criminal.”

Matulis and fellow juror Daniel Austin said the person who sealed Cuadra’s fate was Cuadra himself when he took the witness stand.

“He shot himself in the foot with the different lies,” said Austin, 58, a retired postal worker from Harveys Lake. “In my eyes, Harlow definitely was the one who did the actual killing.”

“He placed himself in the house, he described it. All reasonable doubt, as far as him being an accomplice, went out the window when he opened his mouth,” Matulis added.

Both jurors said the jury never even got to the point where it deliberated whether Cuadra should live or die. The panel failed to agree that there was an aggravating circumstance that would make Cuadra eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors argued there were two aggravating circumstances — that the murder occurred during the commission of a felony, the robbery of Kocis, and a fire set to Kocis’ home put fire crews at great risk. Jurors rejected the fire argument. Olszewski told jurors the aggravated circumstance of robbery could only be applied against Cuadra if they believed he was the killer. The jury deadlocked in this regard.

Had the jury found an aggravating circumstance, they would have weighed it against mitigating circumstances offered by the defense, such as sexual abuse Cuadra endured and his service in the Navy.

Austin said he thought prosecutors proved an aggravating circumstance, but doesn’t think he would’ve voted for the death penalty.

“You could see his family was dysfunctional. He did serve his country. With that in my mind, I was learning towards life anyway. But we never got that far. He got life in prison. I could live with that. In my opinion, I’d rather be dead than sitting in a prison cell for the next 50, 60 years,” Austin said.

Matulis agreed.

“I think the outcome of the trial worked out. I’m content with it. He’s not a free man. He’ll never be a free man,” Matulis said.

What Joe was 'Supposed' to Say...

Joseph Kerekes

According to the Citizens' Voice... throughout the trial, Harlow Cuadra’s defense attorneys said he was controlled by his domineering lover and business partner Joseph Kerekes. They say Kerekes was in control again last week when he promised to testify Cuadra was innocent of Bryan Kocis’ murder, then took the stand and refused, delivering a giant blow to Cuadra’s defense.

With the gag order lifted after Cuadra’s sensational murder case ended Monday, one of his attorneys for the first time publicly detailed how the defense was duped by Kerekes in an unexpected case-shifting move.

Up until five minutes before he took the stand, Kerekes had promised to testify Cuadra was unaware of the murder plot, “had nothing to do with it” and planned to detail to the jury how the homicide occurred, said attorney Joseph D’Andrea, who defended Cuadra along with attorney Paul J. Walker.

“We were taken aback,” D’Andrea said. “It again showed Joseph Kerekes trying to control Harlow Cuadra’s life. Joe Kerekes controlled Harlow for one last time.”

Without Kerekes’ testimony, it was up to Cuadra to convince a jury he was innocent. But when he took the stand on his own behalf, he “did more harm than good,” D’Andrea noted.

“He wasn’t the best witness. We were hoping he would have been more cooperative, not as combative. But your life is on the line and it’s difficult to be calm,” he said.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, the lead prosecutor, called Cuadra “his own worst enemy” on the stand.

“I think he did very poorly — contradictory and utterly inconsistent,” Melnick said.

Melnick said the defense erred by thinking it could place any faith in Kerekes, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Kocis’ death in December and agreed to serve life in prison. The prosecution didn’t even consider calling Kerekes as a witness against Cuadra because the case was strong enough without his testimony, plus he could do something unpredictable, as the defense experienced, Melnick said.

“What happened to attorney D’Andrea came as no surprise to us, but that became his problem, not ours,” Melnick said. “The last thing I wanted was Kerekes as a witness on my side.”

In his plea agreement, Kerekes pinned the murder on Cuadra, and “would have had to take the stand and point-blank commit perjury” if he testified Cuadra was innocent, Melnick said.

D’Andrea said he met with Kerekes several times, including at the Luzerne County Courthouse minutes before taking the stand. Kerekes assured he was “going to testify on Harlow’s behalf to exonerate him,” D’Andrea said.

Kerekes then took the stand, refused to testify and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents, and it would destroy them if I said something that I didn’t do.”

“Somehow, in that five-minute period, something or someone got to him. He changed his mind,” D’Andrea said.

Harlow Cuadra... Life without Parole (x2)

video

The Citizens' Voice reports that their arms interlocked and tears rolled down their face as the family of Bryan Kocis, who sat through countless hours of hearings related to his murder, stood Monday within an arm’s reach of the man guilty of killing their brother and son.

“I certainly hope that a day does not go by for the rest of your life that you do not remember the tragic, the grief, the pain, the endless pain that you have caused that family,” county Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said before sentencing Harlow Cuadra to two consecutive life sentences plus additional time for the murder of Kocis in January 2007.

Cuadra, 27, said nothing before Olsewski sentenced him. He wiped tears from his face, but stood stoic, while his mother sobbed and muttered 50 feet behind him, seated on a courthouse bench.

Olszewski’s words were a formality, life in prison was the state-mandated sentence for first-degree homicide after the jury of eight men and four women couldn’t reach a unanimous decision about the death penalty. Shackled and handcuffed, Cuadra listened as Olszewski closed a more than two-year-long case for prosecutors, detectives and the Kocis family.

“My brother was my best friend and you’ll never have a clue what you took away from us,” Kocis’ sister Melody Bartusek told Cuadra.

Lead prosecutor Michael Melnick hugged Kocis’ mother after she fought through tears to tell Cuadra about her son.

“I hope you think every day of Bryan and the awful deed you did to him,” Joyce Kocis said.

Cuadra will be transported to a state correctional institution within 10 days to serve his life sentence.

“I’m not happy about the (life sentence),” Kocis’ father, Michael Kocis, told Olszewski. “My son is in a jar. We have him in ashes and I don’t see him walking around. What (Cuadra) did was unconscionable.”

Kocis, 44, was stabbed to death at his Dallas Township home before his house was set on fire. Kocis, a rival pornography producer, was killed by Cuadra and his former lover Joseph Kerekes, the jury decided, in order to help their burgeoning gay pornography business. They wanted to lure an actor from Kocis’ studio to their own in Virginia Beach, Va., prosecutors allege. Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide and is serving a life sentence.

Kocis’ disfigured body and the wreckage left at his home from the Jan. 24, 2007, murder created a crime scene nearly impossible to sort through, Melnick said. He described how state troopers and detectives “literally crawled through debris” in bitter cold January temperatures to search for evidence. The investigation “went from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the coast of the Pacific,” including wire taps at a beach near San Diego, mining through countless computer records and forensic pathology studies, Melnick said.

“At that time, I wondered if we would ever see this day,” Melnick said, before effusing praise on investigators and fellow Assistant District Attorneys Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski, his co-counsel on the case.

The same jury that convicted Cuadra on Thursday of first-degree homicide deliberated for about five-and-a-half hours Monday before telling Olszewski they could not reach a unanimous verdict. Jurors were given two aggravating factors to consider in the case — the arson and robbery charges. After three-and-a-half hours, the jury returned to the courtroom, explaining they had dismissed one of the two, but were at an impasse on the other. Olszewski instructed to try to reach a unanimous decision, but after two more hours of deliberating, they said they couldn’t.

Paul J. Walker, who along with Joseph D’Andrea represented Cuadra, told jurors during his closing argument that if they believe Cuadra was an accomplice in Kocis’ death, with Kerekes as the primary killer, they should disregard the robbery charge as an aggravating factor. Cuadra could have been convicted of first-degree homicide as an accomplice, according to Pennsylvania law — jurors didn’t specify if that was the case. Getting the death penalty is much more difficult for an accomplice, attorneys said.

D’Andrea said he believes the defense was able to convince the jury Cuadra was not the principal murderer.

“Academically, that sounds good, but in practical terms, he still was found guilty of a murder as an accomplice,” he said.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, Melnick said, because Cuadra was found guilty of first-degree homicide, but he thinks Cuadra slashed Kocis’ throat.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Harlow Cuadra killed Bryan Kocis,” he said.

Leaving the courthouse, Cuadra’s mother, Gladis Zaldivar, sobbed and had her family shield her as she walked down the basement hall toward the exit. She continually yelled, “My son is innocent!”

Moments earlier, she sat in a chair next to her son, alone in the courtroom with him. The judge, jury and attorneys had all left the crying mother to say goodbye to her son.

Downstairs in the courthouse rotunda, Kocis’ family hugged investigators and wiped away tears.

“We have been through hell,” Michael Kocis said. “It will never be over for us, but I’m just glad it has come to a close.”

Harlow Cuadra

Meanwhile, according to the Times Leader, a shackled Harlow Cuadra dropped his shoulders and leaned back when a Luzerne County judge on Monday sentenced him to two consecutive life terms in prison for the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis.

After he was sentenced, a teary-eyed Cuadra, 27, sat and stared at his mother, Gladis Zaldivar, in the gallery. The two mouthed “I love you” before Cuadra was handcuffed and escorted to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, where he will be kept until he is transferred to a state prison within the next 10 days.

He declined comment when he was taken from the courthouse.

The jury of eight men and four women that convicted Cuadra of first-degree murder was unable to reach a unanimous decision to impose the death penalty after nearly five hours of deliberating.

Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. was mandated under state law to sentence Cuadra to life in prison with no chance for parole. Cuadra was also sentenced to a second life term for conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, plus 8.6 years to 18.8 years on other charges.

Cuadra was found guilty by the jury on Thursday of killing Kocis, 44, inside Kocis’ residence in Dallas Township that was set ablaze.

Assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski said Kocis died from a slash to his neck that nearly decapitated him and was stabbed 28 times before flames burned approximately 90 percent of his body.

“After this victim was killed, this defendant first stabbed the victim in and about the abdomen and chest 28 times,” Olszewski said during the sentencing hearing. “Above and beyond that, he set the house ablaze that resulted in a fire that burned the victim beyond recognition.”

Investigators said Kocis was killed because Cuadra and his lover, Joseph Kerekes, considered Kocis their main rival in the adult film production industry and wanted to work with adult film actor Sean Lockhart, who was a contract actor for Kocis’ company, Cobra Video.

Cuadra and Kerekes, 35, operated a male escorting business and an Internet-based gay pornography production company in Virginia Beach, Va.

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

“It has been a long two years, two months,” Bryan’s father, Michael Kocis, said after Cuadra was sentenced. “We’re glad it has come to a conclusion. He was the best son we could ever have.”

Joyce Kocis, Bryan’s mother, tearfully said Melnick promised her two years ago that her son’s killer would be caught and convicted.

“I won’t use the word happy, because I don’t think we will ever be happy,” Michael said.

Cuadra was convicted of first-degree homicide, conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, abuse of corpse, robbery, theft, tampering with evidence, two counts of arson and four conspiracy charges after a 12-day trial.

The jury began deliberating Cuadra’s punishment just before 11 a.m. Monday after Melnick and Cuadra’s co-defense lawyer Paul Walker presented closing arguments.

Melnick pushed for capital punishment, telling the jury Cuadra endangered firefighters and stole laptop computers, cameras and a Rolex watch from Kocis’ home.

The danger to firefighters battling the intense blaze at Kocis’ residence and the items stolen during a robbery were two aggravating factors prosecutors sought for the death penalty.

Walker told the jury Cuadra honorably served in the U.S. Navy before being discharged and grew up in a dysfunctional family. He said Cuadra’s natural father never wanted him and Cuadra was a model inmate while jailed at Lackawanna County Prison, where he translated religious services into Spanish for Hispanic inmates.

Walker repeated during his closing argument as he had during trial that Kerekes was the more dominant person in the relationship with Cuadra.

“Kerekes got him out of the Navy, Kerekes got him in escorting … Kerekes controlled (Cuadra’s) credit cards and driver’s license,” Walker said.

During the trial, Walker and co-defense lawyer Joseph D’Andrea shifted blame to Kerekes, who they say actually killed Kocis.
---
Additional Articles:

Emotional lead prosecutor lauds all who aided conviction

Defense: Cuadra testimony more harmful than helpful

Monday, March 16, 2009

Harlow Cuadra's Trial... Penalty Phase Day 2

Verdict: Life Without Parole

video

7:35 PM: I can now confirm that Harlow's official sentence is as follows:

Life w/o Parole for first-degree murder
Life w/o Parole for criminal conspiracy engaging
20 Years for the rest
1 Year probation.

Meanwhile... a reliable source just told me... 'all of those sentences are consecutive, not concurrent. essentially, he'd need two lives and then some to serve his sentences'.

4:52 PM: According to the Citizens' Voice, Harlow Cuadra will serve life in prison, after the jury of eight men and four women could not reach a unanimous decision whether prosecution presented any aggravating factors worthy of the death penalty.

The same jury that convicted Cuadra Thursday of first-degree homicide for Bryan Kocis' January 2007 murder at his Dallas Township reached an impasse today. The jury deliberated for about five and a half hours before telling count Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. they could not reach a unanimous verdict despite being given more time by the judge.

The jury returned to the courtroom around 2:30 to tell Olszewski they agreed one of the factors wasn't valid, but had reach an impasse on the other.

Olszewski instructed jurors to try and reach a unanimous decision. The jury foreman didn't specify which of the two aggravating factors they were undecided.

4:50 PM: The Times Leader is reporting that a Luzerne County jury has decided Harlow Cuadra will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The jury came to a unanimous decision of life in prison without the possibility parole.

4:49 PM:Life without Parole.

2:57 PM: Meanwhile, the Citizens' Voice is reporting that jurors will continue deliberations after telling county Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. they are at an impasse over one of the two aggravating factors.

The jury foreman said the jury unanimously agrees that one of the two aggravating factors is not valid in the case, but is at an impasse on the other.

Olszewski told jurors to return to its chambers to continue deliberations and to try and reach a unanimous decision.

If jurors find one aggravating factor, they will have to weigh it against mitigating circumstances.

2:55 PM: According to the Times Leader, the Luzerne County jury will continue to deliberate the fate of Harlow Cuadra's future after it advised the judge they couldn't reach an unanimous decision.

The jury foreman told Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. that there was confusion on one of the two aggravating circumstances, which are robbery and endangering firefighters.

Olszewski advised the jury to continue to deliberate. If the jury is unable to reach an unanimous decision, Olszewski will be mandated under the law to sentence Cuadra to life in prison.

The same jury deliberating Cuadra's fate convicted him last week in the killing of Bryan Kocis, 44, in Dallas Township in January 2007.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said Cuadra set Kocis' home on fire, which endangered firefighters, and stole items from the home in a robbery.

2:30 PM: The jury is back.

1:16 PM: Sources tell me that the jury is still deliberating. I'm a little surprised it's taking this long.

12:35 PM: A court watcher tells me that Harlow looked pretty down today. More than during the trial. His mother is a wreck, but can't really say if Harlow's any more upbeat or depressed than last week. He was only in court for a couple hours this morning.

12:19 PM: Sources tell me that the jury continues to deliberate. I can't imagine it's going to be too much longer.

11:24 AM: The Citizens' Voice reports that Harlow Cuadra's fate is in the hands of the jury, who will decide if he deserves death for the murder of Bryan Kocis.

Jurors left the courtroom at 11:04 a.m. to weigh two aggravating factors connected to the murder-- the robbery, a felony, and arson charges, which risked firefighters lives -- against mitigating circumstances presented by Cuadra's attorneys.

Cuadra was convicted Thursday of first-degree homicide by the same jury for the Jan. 24, 2007, murder and arson at Kocis' Dallas Township home.

Lead prosecutor Michael Melnick showed jurors prosecution evidence during closing arguments. He showed the knife that likely killed Kocis, and described how it slashed Kocis' neck and nearly decapitated him. He replayed wire-tapped conversations Cuadra had at a beach outside San Diego.

“Actually, seeing that (expletive) going down, actually it’s sick, but it made me feel better inside,” Cuadra said on the tape, referring to Kocis.

Melnick questioned Cuadra's service in the Navy, saying it shouldn't be considered as a mitigating circumstance. Cuadra was honorably discharged after serving nearly three years in the Navy, but it was shortly before the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

"Did the defendant, as he’s presenting, demonstrate selfless sacrifice or selfish indulgence?" Melnick asked.

"The appropriate sentence in this case is that of capital punishment," he said later.

Paul J. Walker, one of Cuadra's two attorneys, presented eight mitigating circumstances, including Cuadra's Naval service, sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the dysfunctional childhood he had, among others.

Cuadra's mother cried as Walker described the impoverished broken home of Cuadra's youth.

Walker challenged Melnick's assertion that Cuadra didn't honorably serve the Navy, calling it ridiculous. Cuadra was discharged because he openly admitted he was a homosexual. He was not scheduled to be deployed overseas when he was discharged, Walker told jurors.

“To suggest he had not served his country admirably is an insult to you and an insult to him,” he said.

Walker also told jurors that, by law, they cannot accept the burglary charge as an aggravating factor, if they believe Cuadra was an accomplice in the crime. In Pennsylvania, someone can be convicted of first-degree homicide as an accomplice. Cuadra's former partner and lover Joseph Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide in the crime and is serving a life sentence. The law says the burglary charge, a felony, can be used as an aggravating circumstance if jurors believe Cuadra in fact slashed Kocis' throat and then robbed him. If Cuadra was an accomplice, it can't be considered, he said.

Walker also said that the fire, which prosecutors say endangered the lives of firefighters, shouldn't be considered. Risking the lives of others while committing a murder is used as an aggravating factor if it happens in the act of the killing. Kocis died of stab wounds, not the fire, Walker said.

"When a person is sentenced to life in prison, that is exactly what it means," Walker said. "Life is life in Pennsylvania...he will spend the rest of his time in prison."

11:02 AM: According to the Times Leader, the Luzerne County jury that convicted Harlow Cuadra last week in the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis will soon consider if he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed.

Prosecutors and Cuadra's lawyers gave closing arguments to the jury this morning.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said Cuadra deliberately killed Kocis and set his home Dallas Township home on fire that endangered firefighters. Several items were stolen from Kocis' home, Melnick said.

The danger to firefighters and the robbery are two aggravating circumstances for capital punishment.

Attorney Paul Walker pleaded with the jury to spare Cuadra's life, saying Cuadra was raised in a dysfunctional family and honorably served with the U.S. Navy.

As throughout the three week trial, Walker blamed Cuadra's lover, Joseph Kerekes, for the killing.

Walker said Kerekes convinced Cuadra to leave the Navy, held onto Cuadra's credit cards and driver's license, and controlled Cuadra's life.

The jury of eight men and four women will begin deliberating Cuadra's punishment once Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. is finished giving them instructions.

9:28 AM: While we await the first tidbits of news, I stumbled upon two additional articles in today's Times Leader: Defense not lacking for experience, and an op-ed by Ed Lewis called Truth trumps every word out of killer Cuadra.

7:53 AM: Closing arguments in the penalty phase are expected to begin today at 9:00 AM, then the jury will decide if Harlow Cuadra is given the death penalty, or life in prison without parole. Stay tuned for further updates throughout the day.

There's also an article about this in today's Times Leader: Cuadra may learn fate today.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Death Penalty... How Does Pennsylvania Law Work?

Harlow Cuadra was found guilty of first-degree murder last Thursday afternoon by a Luzerne County jury, and is now facing the possibility of getting the death penalty as his sentence. While a good portion of his penalty phase was held last Friday, closing arguments are expected to be heard Monday morning, and then it'll be up to the jury once again to decide. While we wait for the 'second verdict', I thought the information below might be helpful to some:

The death penalty may only be applied in cases where a defendant is found guilty of first degree murder. A separate hearing is held for the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. If at least one of the ten aggravating circumstances listed in the law and none of the eight mitigating factors are found to be present, the verdict must be death.

The next step is formal sentencing by the judge. Frequently, there is a delay between the sentence verdict and formal sentencing as post-trial motions are heard and considered. An automatic review of the case by the state Supreme Court follows sentencing. The court can either uphold the sentence or vacate for imposition of a life sentence.

If the Supreme Court affirms the sentence, the case goes to the Governor's Office where it is reviewed by appropriate legal counsel and, ultimately, by the Governor himself. Only the Governor may set the execution date, which is done through the signing of a document known as the Governor's Warrant. By law, all executions are carried out at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview.

Status of Capital Cases

The number of inmates with execution sentences held in the state correctional system continues to grow. For security purposes, all execution cases are assigned to administrative custody status and are housed in Restricted Housing Units (RHUs) at SCIs Graterford and Greene.

Prior to the creation of the Bureau of Correction (now the Department of Corrections) in 1953, capital cases were brought to Rockview, along with the Governor's Warrant, on the day of the execution. After the bureau came into existence, it became common practice for the persons sentenced to death to be transferred to state custody as soon as formal sentencing by the judge had taken place. Until 1971, these cases were held in maximum security status, usually at Eastern or Western Penitentiary and sometimes at Graterford, until the execution date. Early in 1971, Attorney General J. Shane Creamer ordered them released into general population since no warrants had been signed for a number of years. Due to the increasing number of capital cases and concerns about security, the bureau returned all capital cases to administrative custody status late in 1982.

SCI ROCKVIEW

In June 1997, the execution complex at SCI Rockview was moved outside of the facility's perimeter to a former field hospital. The building, which is located on prison grounds, was renovated into a maximum-security building which will house capital cases for a short period of time just prior to execution. The relocation will allow officials to prepare for and carry out executions without disrupting the day-to-day operation of SCI Rockview. The relocation also enhances the safety and security of witnesses because it doesn't require them to enter the facility to view an execution. There are three cells located within this complex. If an execution is imminent, the condemned will be housed in this area until the sentence is carried out.

Additional Resources:

- Death Penalty FAQ
- Visiting Rules

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Amid Drama, Mother’s Pleas Ring the Truest

Yet another interesting editorial by Mark Guydish in this Sunday's Times Leader...

Friday’s sentencing hearing to determine if Harlow Cuadra gets death or life in prison proved part cliché and part melodrama. After testimony that careened close to soap opera, it seemed appropriate to end with a cliff hanger. Tune in Monday!

There was the Lackawanna prison chaplain in black cloth and white Roman collar recounting the convicted killer’s transformation behind bars. Cuadra would attend Mass in jail, offer to give the readings in Spanish, and even recruited others to continue doing so after he leaves.

“Harlow has grown a great deal since he’s been in prison,” the chaplain said. “He’s dependable, responsible, and very, very respectful to everyone.”

Well, yeah, the skeptic may think, but he’s a boyish homosexual in lock-up. These sound like survival tactics.

There was the gay wanna-be lover who met Cuadra first as his paid “escort,” befriended him as they shared a love of cheesecakes, and then drove 4-1/2 hours one way just to spend an hour or two with the imprisoned Cuadra, bringing Harry Potter books and giving him money to buy things.

Harlow wove him a small cloth cross the man now wears around his neck. “This really means a lot to me,” he said. “I had lost my faith. Through him I got it back.” Was he infatuated with Harlow? The answer was no, but the skeptic notes that the infatuated never recognize their condition.

A son is a son

Cuadra’s half-sister offered testimony that sounded contradictory. His half-brother’s short stint on the stand seemed irrelevant, even though he had been the first sibling to find Harlow after years of separation, thanks to a search of the social-networking Web site MySpace.com.

Watch for the next big reality show: Siblings reunited through MySpace (or Facebook, or whatever site proves willing to go along with the scheme).

It was, of course, Harlow’s Mother Gladis who dominated the day. An immigrant from Honduras, she spoke through a translator, and the anti-immigration faction surely would argue that’s the problem: In America at least two decades and can’t plead for her son in English.

But a son is a son in any language, and when she cried, he cried. The defense attorney made her read a letter from Harlow’s stepfather in which the man wrote of Harlow’s “private parts.” The mother and son sobbed. She claimed she once found her husband fondling her sleeping son. “How can he do such a thing?” She sobbed.

How indeed? Yet the skeptic wonders – as Harlow himself did, if the mitigation expert who interviewed him is to be believed – how could the mother not know such molestation occurred for nearly a decade in her house?

That mitigation expert offered her own theory (after Harlow’s mother had left the room). Coming from a broken family and recurring hardship, Gladis had “an idealized image of romance,” as she went from one failed relationship to another “looking for a father” for her children.

The jury looked either unmoved or inscrutable. On Monday they will meet with the terrible weight of a death sentence in their hands.

It’s a decision Harlow’s mother claims she had already made once, refusing to have the abortion his father demanded. She used that fact in her final, passionate plea to the jury.

“Before he was born I fought for his life, and now I continue fighting so he can keep on living. It’s the only thing I can say to you. With my last drop of blood, I’ll keep on fighting.”

In a day of stereotypes, confusion and high drama, that note rang truest.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Harlow Cuadra's Trial... Penalty Phase Day 1 Overview

Harlow's Family

The Times Leader reports Joyce Kocis had to be helped from the witness stand after telling the Luzerne County jury about how generous her son, Bryan, was in the community.

“He was the type of person that did things for people,” a tearful Joyce said on Friday. “We heard stories after that happened about the generosity he would do.”

Her son was killed inside his Midland Drive, Dallas Township, home that was set ablaze on Jan. 24, 2007.

Two men from Virginia Beach, Va., Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes, were charged for Kocis’ murder.

Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and is serving life in prison.

Cuadra, 27, was convicted by the jury on Thursday of first-degree murder and 11 other charges. The same jury is deciding whether Cuadra should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or be executed.

Kocis’ father, Michael Kocis, told the jury he hasn’t slept a full night in the last 26 months, and blames his son’s murder for his declining health.

“We were very close,” Michael said. “He was my hunting partner who saved my life when I had my heart attack.”

Michael told the jury that he taught Bryan how to drive a vehicle with a stick-shift transmission, and worked three jobs to put his son through college.

Bryan donated money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and to an unwed mother who couldn’t afford Christmas presents for her children, Michael said.

Bryan’s dream was to build a waterfront home at Ice Lakes in Rice Township where he owned property, Michael said, and open a restaurant.

“That was the type of person he was, very generous,” Michael said.

Michael said he felt like an “intruder” and cried when he stood alone in his son’s burned out home.

The jury was shown a Kocis family picture standing at the Empire State Building in New York City. Bryan took the family to New York in a limousine for the July 4th weekend in 2006.

“He showed us the best time of our lives,” Michael said. “I miss him dearly.”

Assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski are attempting to convince the jury that Cuadra should receive the death penalty because he stole items from Kocis’ home during a robbery and set Kocis’ home on fire that endangered firefighters.

Computer equipment, two Sony digital cameras and a Rolex watch were missing from Kocis’ home.

Joyce and Michael testified to the emotional pain and grief they continue to endure since their son’s murder.

Melnick said firefighters had a difficult time extinguishing the blaze. Windows were busted and two holes were cut in the roof to ventilate the heat and smoke, Melnick said.

“The heat was terrible, we really didn’t have any visibility,” Dallas firefighter Michael James Hawk testified on Friday.

Hawk was part of three search teams that entered Kocis’ home because firefighters were told by neighbors the home was occupied and a vehicle was parked in the driveway.

Hawk said he crawled on his hands and knees up the stairs to search the second floor.

“Something happened to my equipment, my face mask,” Hawk told the jury. “All of a sudden, I started breathing in smoke, tasting smoke.”

“With the smoke and heat … there was a danger there,” Dallas firefighter Timothy Rismondo testified.

Rismondo said when Kocis’ body was found, firefighters believed he succumbed to the smoke.

Melnick said Kocis suffered a slashed neck that nearly decapitated him and 28 stab wounds.

Harlow Cuadra

Meanwhile, over at the Citizens' Voice... three parents testified Friday — two remembering a son lost to murder; the other begging jurors to spare her son’s life.

Testimony concluded Friday in the penalty phase of Harlow Cuadra’s capital homicide trial.

The jury of eight men and four women will hear closing arguments Monday before deciding if Cuadra deserves the death penalty for Bryan Kocis’ murder. Cuadra was found guilty Thursday of first-degree homicide and 11 other charges in Kocis’ Jan. 24, 2007, murder at Kocis’ Dallas Township home.

Kocis was a generous and caring son, his mother and father said. He donated to numerous charities, served as a deacon at his church and was an Eagle Scout. Kocis, 44, was his parents’ “first and only son,” a hunting buddy and devoted uncle to his niece and nephew, they said.

He “would drop everything to help me out,” Kocis’ father, Michael Kocis, said.

Cuadra killed Kocis, prosecutors say, because he was a rival producer of pornography. Cuadra and his former partner and lover Joseph Kerekes plotted to kill Kocis in order to lure a model to the gay pornography Web site they operated in Virginia Beach, Va.

Kocis had plans, his father said, to open up a restaurant at his lake property.

“He wanted to run the best restaurant in the Valley,” he said. “His goal was by 2008.”

That goal was cut short when Kocis’ life ended, his father said. In the time he was alive, Kocis went out of his way to help people, his father said.

One time, the elder Kocis remembered, his son knew of a single mother who couldn’t afford presents for her children at Christmas. He bundled several gifts and left it at the doorstep, never taking credit, Michael Kocis said.

“That’s just the way he was,” he said.

Michael Kocis gripped a handkerchief and stopped to cry several times as he testified.

“I’m going to try to get through this,” he told jurors before answering questions.

Kocis’ mother, Joyce, cried through her testimony, detailing the pain her son’s death caused. Kocis’ parents haven’t slept a full night in the 26 months since their son’s brutal stabbing death, they said. They’ve returned to Luzerne County Courthouse for countless hours of hearings related to the murder.

Cuadra’s mother, Gladis Zaldivar, testified in Spanish and a court worker translated her words for the jury. Wiping away tears, she had one last remark for jurors before finishing her testimony.

“Before he was born, I fought for his life,” she said looking at the jurors. “And I fight for his life now. That is all I can say.”

Cuadra wiped away tears as his mother testified.

The same jury that convicted Cuadra on Thursday, will have to weigh Friday’s testimony in determining if Cuadra deserves death. The prosecution’s two aggravating factors — the robbery and the arson charges against Cuadra in Kocis’ killing — have to be considered along with the defense’s mitigating circumstance. Four prosecution and nine defense witnesses testified Friday. In addition to Kocis’ parents, two firefighters testified about the blaze at Kocis’ Midland Drive home the night of his death. That arson, prosecutor’s allege, risked the lives of firefighters and should be considered as a reason to issue the death penalty.

Five family members, including his mother, testified on behalf of Cuadra, as did a friend. They recounted Cuadra’s childhood and how his stepfather sexually molested him for years.

Cuadra’s mother read a letter her former husband supposedly sent to Cuadra. Cuadra had joined the Navy when he was a teenager to get away from his stepfather. In the letter, which his mother accidentally found in 2000, Cuadra’s stepfather discussed sexual acts he wanted to perform on Cuadra. Cuadra’s mother divorced him after discovering what her husband was doing.

“It’s embarrassing,” she said sobbing. “I’m sorry … I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”

Cuadra left the Navy and hadn’t returned home for more than five years when his siblings found his MySpace Web site. Cuadra was afraid they would be ashamed because he was homosexual and worked in pornography, his older brother Jose Cuadra testified. But they were able to reunite in early 2007.

“We didn’t care about that,” Jose Cuadra said. “I was just happy to have my brother again.
---
The Times Leader also has an additional story about yesterday's hearing... an e-mail on the Web social networking site MySpace reunited Harlow Cuadra with his family after nearly five years of being separated.

Cuadra testified earlier in the week that he kept away from his relatives because he felt ashamed he’s gay. Once they were reunited, his family rallied to support him after his arrest for the murder of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township more than two years ago.

They testified in Luzerne County Court on Friday trying to convince the jury to spare his life.

Cuadra, 27, of Virginia Beach, Va., was convicted by the jury on Thursday for killing Kocis, 44, inside Kocis’ residence on Jan. 24, 2007. The same jury that found him guilty of first degree murder and 11 other charges will determine if Cuadra should be sentenced to life in prison or be executed.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick and Cuadra’s attorneys, Joseph D’Andrea and Paul Walker, are set to give closing arguments on Monday before the jury deliberates Cuadra’s future.

Cuadra’s mother, Gladis Zaldivar, and his sister, Melissa Zaldivar, 19, have attended every day of the trial including jury selection since Feb. 17. Since Monday, his brothers, Jose Cuadra, 28, and David Bizizuela, 16, have attended court proceedings. They all reside in Greenville, S.C.

Jose Cuadra and Bizizuela told the jury that they found Harlow on MySpace in early 2007, after not hearing from him since early 2002.

Bizizuela sent Harlow an e-mail and got a reply, “Sorry, I don’t know any 14-year olds.”

They were reunited after Jose sent Harlow an e-mail, Jose said.

“I found out in 2007 on MySpace that Harlow was involved in gay porn,” Jose testified. “I sent Harlow an e-mail to meet up.”

Harlow invited Joseph Kerekes, his lover and partner in a male escort business and production of gay pornographic Web based movies, to meet the family, Jose said.

“It was weird at first but he’s my brother. He was scared that we would reject him because he’s gay. He’s my brother,” Jose testified.

“I didn’t care about that, him being gay,” Bizizuela testified. “I was happy to get my brother back.”

Bizizuela said he last saw Harlow when he was 9 years old.

Jose told the jury about the financial hardship and troubled childhood they endured while residing in Florida. Jose said they resided in a tiny, windowless apartment, slept on the floor without a mattress and had only one ball to play with.

“We were living on welfare, living on food stamps; it was bad,” Jose said.

Their mother, Gladis, remarried in April 1995. Their stepfather provided financial support but wanted something in return, Walker said.

“(Stepfather) had a fixation with him, Harlow,” Jose said.

Jose said the stepfather would send him to the store so he could be alone with Harlow, who was sexually abused for about 10 years. Jose said he left home when he was 16 years old when the stepfather grabbed him.

Gladis Zaldivar, who needed an English interpreter for her testimony, told the jury that she caught her husband molesting Harlow. She immediately left him taking her children, but her husband begged her to forgive him.

After reading a letter her husband wrote to Harlow, who had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January 2000, Gladis learned her husband continued to have feelings for Harlow.

Harlow last spoke to his mother in early 2002 and felt embarrassed when she found out he was gay. It would be five years until he next spoke to his family.

“You don’t know how much I missed you,” a crying Gladis told Harlow on Friday.

Melissa Zaldivar said the first time she saw Harlow after five years was at a court hearing in Virginia Beach, Va., after his arrest in May 2007 for Kocis’ murder.

“Harlow told us he was afraid we would reject him because he was in the pornography business and he was gay,” Melissa testified.

Melissa also recalled her childhood that she called “happy” until her mother and father divorced.

“My brother (David) and I were on MySpace and we went to search for him (Harlow),” Melissa said. “Jose logged on and sent Harlow an e-mail and he called.”

Karen Stanton, a civilian employee with the Department of the U.S. Navy, testified about Harlow’s military service.

Harlow signed a delayed enlistment contract on Aug. 26, 1999, and reported for duty on Jan. 13, 2000, Stanton said.

Harlow committed to serve eight years and was trained as a hospital corpsman. While stationed in Norfolk, Va., Harlow met Kerekes in an on-line chat room.

Kerekes, 35, convinced Harlow to leave the Navy and helped pay for an attorney to expedite the process.

Harlow requested to separate from the Navy due to being a homosexual, Stanton said.

She said Harlow was honorably discharged after serving two years, 11 months and eight days in the Navy.

"I don’t mean this in a bad way, but it is a straight man’s military," Harlow testified on Tuesday when he took the witness stand against his lawyers advice.

Harlow moved in with Kerekes and joined him running a male escort business. Escorting turned into producing gay pornographic films as a “hobby,” Harlow said, on the Internet.

Kerekes took over the Web site after it made several hundred dollars, Harlow said.

Investigators said Kocis was killed because Cuadra and Kerekes considered him their main rival in the adult film production industry, and wanted to work with adult film actor Sean Lockhart, who was a contract actor for Kocis’ company, Cobra Video.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Harlow Cuadra's Trial... Penalty Phase

4:34 PM: According to the Times Leader, convicted murderer Harlow Cuadra will have to wait until Monday if he will spend the rest of his life in prison or if he faces the death penalty.

Prosecutors presented five witnesses and Cuadra's attorneys called seven people to testify during the penalty phase of the trial.

Cuadra, 27, was convicted by the jury on Thursday of killing Bryan Kocis, 44, in January 2007. The same jury will consider if he should be sentenced to life in prison or be executed.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will give closing arguments on Monday before the jury decides which sentence will be imposed upon Cuadra.

3:42 PM: The Citizens' Voice reports that testimony concluded this afternoon in the death penalty phase of Harlow Cuadra's capital homicide trial.

Attorneys will give closing arguments after a short break. Jurors will then decide if Cuadra deserves the death penalty for the Jan. 24, 2007 homicide of Bryan Kocis. Cuadra, 27, was convicted Thursday of first-degree homicide and 11 other charges.

Defense attorneys called nine witnesses, including Cuadra's family members and psychological experts who testified to his background.

Cuadra's mother testified for more than an hour on her son's behalf. She sobbed as she answered questions in Spanish and a court worker translated for the jury.

"Before he was born, I fought for his life," she said. "And I fight for his life now. That is all I can say."

Cuadra's older brother, Jose Cuadra, described the family's poverty when Harlow Cuadra was a child and how Harlow Cuadra was sexually molested by his stepfather when he was a child.

Prosecution concluded its testimony this morning after calling five witnesses.

Bryan Kocis' mother and father described their "caring" and "generous" son, and the pain in their lives since his murder.

Michael Kocis testified his son was his hunting buddy. Since his death, he hasn't had a full night of sleep in the past 26 months. Michael Kocis read his answers from a prepared sheet, but had to stop several times to wipe tears.

"I'm going to try and get through this," he told jurors before detailing how Bryan Kocis donated money to charities helping battered women and the United Way. His "first and only son" was an Eagle Scout and a deacon at his church, Michael Kocis said.

1:30 PM: The Times Leader reports that Harlow Cuadra was molested by his step father for several years as a child while living in Tampa and Miami, Fla,, his brother, Jose Cuadra Jr., said.

Jose Cuadra testified on his brother's behalf during the penalty phase of Cuadra's hearing on Friday.

Cuadra, 27, was convicted by a jury on Thursday for the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis, 44, in January 2007. The same jury that convicted him is now hearing testimony to determine if Cuadra should be sentenced to life in prison or be executed.

Jose Cuadra, 28, said he and Harlow had a rough childhood growing up in Miami. After their parents divorced, they stayed with their mother, Gladis, residing in a tiny, windowless apartment near Tampa.

"We were living on welfare, living on foodstamps, it was bad," Jose said. "We didn't having nothing. We only had one ball; we would both go out and play ball."

Jose said their mother dated, including a man in a gang, and eventually married. The man their mother married began molesting Harlow while he slept in the same bed with Jose.

Jose said the molestation forced him to leave the home when he was 16 years old. He said he lost touch with Harlow for several years.

Harlow was found when Jose and his younger sister and brother found him on the myspace.com networking Web site.

"We found out in 2007 on myspace that Harlow was involved in gay porn," Jose said. "He came over the house with Joe (Kerekes) in the spring (2007). It was a little wierd at first but he' s my brother. He was scared that we would reject him because he's gay."

Prosecutors are attempting to convince the jury that Cuadra should receive the death penalty because he stole items from Kocis' home during a robbery, and set Kocis' home on fire that endangered firefighters.

Cuadra's attorneys, Joseph D'Andrea and Paul Walker, are calling several family members of Cuadra to testify on his behalf.

After testimony concludes, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick and D'Andrea or Walker will present their arguments to the jury before they deliberate Cuadra's punishment.

11:14 AM: According to the Citizens' Voice, Bryan Kocis' mother and father could barely finish their sentences as they described their "caring" and "generous" son, and the pain in their lives since his murder Jan. 24, 2007.

Prosecution concluded its testimony this morning in the penalty phase of Harlow Cuadra's capital homicide trial after calling five witnesses. Cuadra was convicted Thursday of first-degree homicide in Kocis' death. Today the jury of eight men and four women will decide if Cuadra deserves the death penalty or life in prison.

Michael Kocis testified his son was his hunting buddy. Since his death, he hasn't had a full night of sleep in the past 26 months. Michael Kocis read his answers from a prepared sheet, but had to stop several times to wipe tears.

"I'm going to try and get through this," he told jurors before detailing how Bryan Kocis donated money to charities helping battered women and the United Way. His "first and only son" was an Eagle Scout and a deacon at his church, Michael Kocis said.

Defense has called three witnesses, including Cuadra's older brother Jose Cuadra. He described the family's poverty when Harlow Cuadra was a child and how Harlow Cuadra was sexually molested by his stepfather when he was a child.

Several more defense witnesses have to testify still, including Harlow Cuadra's mother and a psychologist.

9:16 AM: The Times Leader is reporting that the penalty phase for convicted murderer Harlow Cuadra has begun.

Prosecutors are presenting evidence that Cuadra, 27, should be executed for the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis, 44, in January 2007.

Kocis was found slain inside his Dallas Township residence that was set ablaze on Jan. 24.

The fire endangered firefighters and items stolen from the home during the robbery are two aggravating factors prosecutors will present to the jury.

"The heat was terrible, we really didn't have any visibility," Dallas firefighter Michael James Hawk testified.

Hawk was part of a search team that entered Kocis' home while it was ablaze.

"Something happened to my equipment, my face mask," Hawk said when he crawled up the stairs and started searching the second floor. "All of a sudden, I started breathing in smoke, tasting smoke."

Kocis' mother, Joyce Kocis, said her son was a generous, loving person and was heartbroken when she learned of her son's death.

"You have to know Bryan, if only you knew Bryan the way we did, he was very private," Joyce testified. "He was the type of person who did things for people."

Cuadra's attorneys, Joseph D'Andrea and Paul Walker, are expected present to the jury several mitigating factors not to impose the death penalty to include Cuadra's service in the U.S. Navy, Cuadra's age at the time of Kocis' death, no prior criminal convictions, participation in the homicide was minimal and being a victim of sexual abuse as a child.

8:21 AM: Now that Harlow Cuadra was found guilty of first-degree murder, we move on to the penalty phase. Starting at 8:30 AM, the jury is expected to hear testimony from Kocis’ family, Cuadra’s family and likely psychiatrists before it deliberates Cuadra’s punishment of life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Stay tuned for further updates throughout the day. Meanwhile, here's a good article written by the Times Leader.