Saturday, March 21, 2009

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.