Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cuadra Trial... Day 12 Overview

The Citizens' Voice reports that Harlow Cuadra shook his head and his voice reached a near frantic tone as he responded to lead prosecutor Michael Melnick’s question.

“He pleaded guilty to murder,” Cuadra said. “I did not. For two years, I have held on to my innocence.”

Joseph Kerekes stabbed Bryan Kocis in a jealous rage, Cuadra said, sticking to his story during two hours of questioning Wednesday.

Eight men and four women will decide if Cuadra killed Kocis and set fire to his Dallas Township home in January 2007. This morning jurors will hear the litany of charges 27-year-old Cuadra faces, including arson, homicide and conspiracy, before beginning their deliberations.

Cuadra, who testified for more than six hours over two days, could face the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree homicide.

“The horror that was inflicted on Bryan Kocis by his killer was terrible,” attorney Joseph D’Andrea said during his closing argument. “But a mystery remains, who is Bryan Kocis’ killer? … Did that young man who I represent do it? Or, did he die by the hand of a violent man named Joseph Kerekes?”

Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty to second-degree homicide in December and is serving a life sentence. Cuadra and Kerekes were codefendants initially, as prosecutors alleged the two men killed Kocis to further the gay pornography Web site they ran in Virginia Beach, Va. Kocis, 44, operated Cobra Video, a well-known gay pornography company. Kerekes was set to testify Tuesday for Cuadra, but changed his mind once he was called to the witness stand.

Melnick’s and D’Andrea’s closing arguments — 56 and 55 minutes each — summed up a case involving more than 90 witnesses, thousands of pages of documents and 12 days of testimony.

“There is one thing I will agree with Harlow Raymond Cuadra about,” Melnick said. “Joseph Kerekes is a murderer. I agree with that. But … this wasn’t a solo performance by Joseph Kerekes.”

Melnick continued, pointing at Cuadra, “He aided and abetted that man.”

Cuadra gained access to Kocis’ Midland Drive home, Melnick said, by pretending to be a modeling hopeful named “Danny Moilin.” And, Cuadra alone slashed Kocis’ throat, Melnick told jurors, because he wanted to increase attention to his pornography Web site.

“(It) is a very mediocre Web site,” Melnick said. “But you heard him. What did the defendant call himself? ‘I’m a gay porn star.’ He was a wannabe. He wanted to be a big deal.”

Despite Cuadra’s repeated denials during cross-examination, Melnick insisted Cuadra’s story of the murder didn’t match prosecution evidence.

“Mr. Cuadra, your goal was to annihilate and obliterate your chief rival,” Melnick said during cross-examination.

“No, and once again, out of 90 people who have taken the stand, you’re the only who is saying that,” Cuadra said. “Your statements are not fact.”

Cuadra’s mother, sister and other family members sighed and clutched the wooden courtroom benches as Melnick’s voice increased and his questions became more direct. Across the aisle, Kocis’ mother, father and sister sat, listening intently and staring at the man accused of killing their son and brother.

Melnick’s closing argument reviewed prosecution evidence, but spent more time quoting Cuadra’s own testimony, saying it was filled with incongruities.

“Was the defendant telling the truth?” Melnick asked. “He has the most at stake. He has a significant interest to lie and fabricate, and you have to take that into account. Does it ring true or is it complete, unadulterated fiction?”

Melnick read from a letter Cuadra sent a friend after his arrest.

“He wrote, and these are his words, he needs lawyers that can tell a good story,” Melnick said. “Innocent people don’t need alibis. They’re innocent.”

Cuadra’s attorneys said Kerekes is the more domineering and physically imposing of the two men. D’Andrea referenced a video showing Cuadra throwing a football.

“I hate to be so condescending, but it was almost feminine,” D’Andrea said. “Harlow is not a jock. Harlow is not the muscleman who has the physical ability to kill.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t care how Harlow throws a football,” Melnick retorted during his closing argument. “He’s a gym rat … The kid is ripped.”

D’Andrea didn’t diminish the weight of prosecution’s case, saying Cuadra didn’t have “helicopters and witnesses to fly in.” He referenced the movie “Doubt” and quoted Sherlock Holmes. The evidence, he said, didn’t prove Cuadra committed a single crime.

“At best, folks, my client was a witness to a crime,” D’Andrea said. “My client didn’t have to testify. He didn’t have to sit there and be barraged for two days. He waited two years to talk to you folks.”

The prosecution’s case raised more questions than it answered, he said. Prosecutors presented evidence of lighter fluid, condoms and other items purchased at Wal-Mart. Cuadra wanted condoms because he thought he really was going to model for Kocis and have sex with him, and he didn’t know about Kerekes’ plans.

“You’re not worried about safe sex if you’re going to kill someone,” D’Andrea said.
According to the Times Leader, homicide suspect Harlow Cuadra had one last chance Wednesday to tell the jury he didn’t kill Bryan Kocis.

Cuadra, 27, blamed his former lover and business partner, Joseph Kerekes.

“Joseph had a lot of chances to get away with this, but he pleaded guilty to murder,” Cuadra testified. “For two years, I always held up to my innocence.”

Cuadra repeated the statement two more times on Wednesday, telling the jury Kerekes, 35, killed Kocis.

Cuadra was the only witness to testify in his defense compared to 86 witnesses called by prosecutors during 12 days of testimony before Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.

The jury of eight men and four women will begin deliberations today after Olszewski instructs them on all 12 criminal charges, including criminal homicide.

If Cuadra is found guilty of being the active participant in Kocis’ murder, the jury will then decide if he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death.

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

Prosecutors alleged Kocis, 44, was killed because Cuadra and Kerekes considered him their main rival in the gay adult film production industry, and wanted to work with adult film actor Sean Lockhart, who was a contract actor for Kocis’ company, Cobra Video.

Kocis’ body was found inside his Midland Drive, Dallas Township, home that was set ablaze on Jan. 24, 2007.

Forensic pathologists Dr. Mary Pascucci and Dr. Gary Ross testified during the trial Kocis suffered a slashed neck that nearly decapitated him, and 28 stab wounds. His body was burned over 90 percent of his body, Pascucci said.

Cuadra admitted for the first time on Tuesday that he was inside Kocis’ home the night Kocis was killed.

Cuadra said Kocis invited him to his residence after Kerekes e-mailed him an actor’s application to appear in Cobra Video films.

While sitting on a couch talking, Cuadra testified, Kerekes stormed inside and fought with Kocis before slashing his throat twice. Pascucci and Ross testified Kocis’ injury to his neck was by a knife in a single swipe.

The jury’s decision may rely upon footballs and condoms.

During closing arguments to the jury, Cuadra’s co-defense lawyer Joseph D’Andrea said Kerekes purchased condoms at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Wilkes-Barre Township prior to Cuadra meeting Kocis. The condoms were bought because Cuadra intended to have sex with Kocis, D’Andrea said.

“If Harlow Cuadra planned on killing Bryan Kocis, why the heck would he need those for?” D’Andrea told the jury while holding two boxes of condoms.

A video showing Cuadra and Lockhart playing catch with a football on a nude beach near San Diego, Calif., was played to the jury during the trial.

D’Andrea said Cuadra threw the football like a girl, suggesting Cuadra was too weak to kill Kocis.

“Harlow is not the muscular man who has the physical ability to kill,” D’Andrea said.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, who along with assistant district attorneys Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski prosecuted the case, said he didn’t care how Cuadra throws a football. He described Cuadra as a “gym rat” who worked out daily.

“He clearly had the strength to behead and nearly decapitate Mr. Kocis,” Melnick said.

“A mystery remains, who is Bryan Kocis’ killer?” D’Andrea asked the jury. “All the resources spent by the district attorney and we still don’t know who killed Bryan Kocis.”

The investigation by Dallas Township police, state police at Wyoming and county detectives alleged Cuadra and Kerekes sent Kocis the Cobra Video application using the name Danny Moilin.

Cuadra testified when he arrived at Kocis’ home, Kocis kept calling him “Danny.”

Authorities traced numerous e-mails and cell phone calls sent to Kocis to computers and cell phones registered to Cuadra.

Lockhart and his business partner, Grant Roy, a producer of gay pornographic films, testified during the trial they met Cuadra and Kerekes at the Adult Video News expo in Las Vegas, Nev., in mid-January 2007.

During dinner at the Le Cirque restaurant at the Bellagio, Roy and Kerekes talked about producing movies involving Lockhart and Cuadra.

Cuadra wore the same blue jacket with gold colored buttons during his testimony on Tuesday that he wore at the dinner with Lockhart and Roy, he said.

Cuadra spent about five hours testifying over two days. He was casual when answering questions from his co-defense lawyer, Paul Walker, about his relationship with Lockhart and Roy, and cried when he talked about his childhood, in which, he claimed he was molested by his stepfather for 10 years.

He was confrontational and cried several times during cross-examination by Melnick.

“One thing I would agree with Harlow Raymond Cuadra is Joseph Kerekes is a murderer,” Melnick said during his closing argument to the jury. “But Joseph Kerekes isn’t on trial. This wasn’t a solo act.”