Sunday, March 1, 2009

Crowds Fill Courtroom for Cuadra's Trial

Harlow Cuadra

A report from the Times Leader says... there were empty seats inside Luzerne County courtroom No. 2 on the first day of Harlow Cuadra’s capital murder trial on Tuesday.

By Friday, it was standing room only.

That was when assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski called perhaps the most important witness to testify against Cuadra, 27, charged in the killing of gay pornographic movie producer Bryan Kocis more than two years ago.

Adult film star Sean Lockhart, 22, spent several hours on the witness stand on Friday, telling the jury that Cuadra desperately wanted to appear in movies with him. Lockhart’s testimony about how Cuadra pressured him for weeks to begin filming summed up Melnick’s last words in his opening statement to the jury that Kocis’ murder was “All for a buck.”

Adult film producer Grant Roy, Lockhart’s business partner, is expected to testify on Monday and will likely take just as long.

Roy is expected to tell the jury about how he and Lockhart cooperated with Pennsylvania investigators in April 2007.

Investigators with assistance from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Naval Intelligence placed a recording device on Roy when he, Lockhart, Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes sat down to have dinner at Crabcatcher’s Restaurant near San Diego, Calif., on April 27.

Kerekes, 35, Cuadra’s partner, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A picture of the four men sitting at a table was shown to the jury on Friday. During dinner, Kerekes told Roy he understood his anxiety, telling Roy that he couldn’t talk because he was worried Roy was wearing a wire.

Shortly after making that statement, Kerekes laughed, Melnick said during his opening statement.

The next day on April 28, Roy carried a remote car opener containing a recording device when the four men visited a nude beach near San Diego.

Transcripts and the recordings are expected to be played to the jury when Roy testifies.

According to the transcripts, Kerekes was pushing Roy into allowing Lockhart to work with Cuadra in several pornographic movies, and discussed ways to pay Roy and Lockhart royalty fees under the table to avoid paying Kocis’ estate.

For most of last week, prosecutors pieced together alleged evidence linking Cuadra and Kerekes to Kocis’ murder on Jan. 24, 2007.

Two former adult film models, Andrew Shunk and Justin Hensley, testified last week that Cuadra and Kerekes would make a fortune if they filmed movies with Lockhart, known in the industry as Brent Corrigan.

Representatives from different cell phone companies and Internet service providers told the jury that phone calls and e-mails to Kocis before his death were traced to Cuadra and Kerekes.

County Coroner John Corcoran, Chief Deputy Coroner William Lisman and forensic pathologist Dr. Mary Pascucci testified Kocis suffered a brutal death inside his Midland Drive home in Dallas Township.

Several residents on Midland Drive testified they saw a light colored sport utility vehicle parked in front of Kocis’ home the night he was killed.

An assistant store manager at Enterprise Car Rental in Virginia Beach, Va., testified Cuadra rented a silver 2006 Nissan XTerra on Jan. 23, 2007, the same day an employee at a Virginia Beach pawn shop told the jury that Cuadra and Kerekes purchased a knife, a .38-caliber handgun and ammunition.

A Virginia Beach detective testified he saw a silver Nissan XTerra parked in front of the home of Cuadra and Kerekes on the morning of Jan. 25, the same day investigators said they returned the vehicle to Enterprise Car Rental with more than 1,000 miles on the odometer.

Cuadra’s lawyers, Joseph D’Andrea and Paul Walker, appear to be shifting blame to Kerekes, who, according to Shunk and Hensley, was the more dominate one in the relationship with Cuadra.

Hensley, who said he worked as an escort and adult film model for Cuadra and Kerekes, said he quit when Kerekes fired several rounds from a handgun during an argument with Cuadra inside their Virginia Beach home.

But it was Lockhart’s testimony that packed the courtroom on Friday. Lockhart explained that a year-long federal civil lawsuit Kocis filed was nearing an end. The lawsuit prevented Lockhart from benefiting financially in adult films as Brent Corrigan, a name Kocis had trademarked in Pennsylvania.

Roy was surfing male escort Web sites for potential adult film models in anticipation of the lawsuit being settled. An offer was made to Cuadra and Kerekes, Lockhart testified on Friday.

Lockhart said he reviewed some of their films. He called the quality “poor.” He liked Cuadra and advised him to build muscle. “I thought he had potential,” Lockhart said about Cuadra.

Lockhart said that he and Roy invited Cuadra and Kerekes to the adult video news expo in Las Vegas, Nev., in mid-January 2007. They discussed business and the lawsuit with Cobra Video over dinner at the five diamond Le Cirque restaurant at the Bellagio.

“We were going to Vegas for the AVN and for mediation with Bryan to settle the lawsuit,” Lockhart said. “We were going even if Harlow and Joe (Kerekes) were not.”

Lockhart said Cuadra and Kerekes picked up the $3,000 restaurant tab.

More than a week after the Las Vegas meeting, Kocis was killed.

In the weeks after Kocis’ death, Lockhart distanced himself from Cuadra and Kerekes.

Roy is expected to tell the jury that Kerekes threatened to blame Kocis’ murder on him and Lockhart.

Against his lawyer’s advice, Lockhart said he agreed to cooperate with investigators and invited Cuadra and Kerekes to San Diego in April 2007 when their meetings were secretly recorded.

Also this week, Renee Martin, of Texas, is expected to testify about three-way phone calls she set up with Cuadra and Kerekes while they were jailed soon after their arrest in May 2007.

Hundreds of phone calls were placed from May 2007 through October 2008. Several of the calls were recorded by investigators.

Court records alleged Cuadra and Kerekes made up several alibi plans during the phone calls.
[Note from PC: Grant Roy will testify on Monday, Renee Martin is expected to begin her testimony as soon as Roy's is completed. Also, sources are telling me to expect the revelation of an 'interesting' letter written by Cuadra, in which he discusses his plans to have the jury feel sympathetic for him, to be reported this week.]

[Note 2 from PC:

Due to an impending winter storm that's forecasted to affect the entire I-95 corridor today, tonight, and most of Monday (some areas are expected to get over a foot of snow), I've decided that it would be best for me (and my car) not to attempt to travel up there today, or tomorrow for that matter. Ironically, I've been wanting snow all winter, but why does it have to happen now of all times? I'll get up there eventually. :)]

[Note 3 from PC: Other witnesses we should hear from this week... Matthew Brannon and Nep Malaki.]