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.