Friday, March 13, 2009

Cuadra Trial... Day 13 Overview

Harlow Cuadra

The Citizens' Voice reports that Harlow Cuadra’s 5-foot-9-inch frame sunk into his wooden chair as the jury foreman read six words.

“Homicide in the first degree. Guilty.”

Cuadra, 27, sobbed on the witness stand a day earlier, telling jurors he didn’t kill Bryan Kocis at his Dallas Township home. Thursday, a shocked gaze replaced tears.

Jurors deliberated 3 hours and 34 minutes to reach a unanimous verdict — guilty on all 12 charges, including arson, abuse of corpse and corruption. It took prosecutors 10 days to present their case, that Cuadra killed Kocis, a rival pornography producer, to advance the gay pornography Web site he operated with Joseph Kerekes in Virginia Beach, Va.

Today the jury of eight men and four women will reconvene for the penalty phase to decide if Cuadra deserves life in prison or death.

Behind Cuadra in county Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.’s courtroom, an aisle separated two families fighting through different emotions.

More than two years after their son and brother was stabbed to death, Kocis’ family found justice Thursday. They sat through countless court hearings in the case to determine who killed the 44-year-old Kocis at his Midland Drive home on Jan. 24, 2007.

Kocis’ father wiped his eyes. Kocis’ mother collapsed into his chest as the verdict was read. The two hugged tightly, trembling each time “guilty” was read.

Family members refrained from commenting after the verdict. But as it was read, Kocis’ mother raised her eyes upward and whispered, “Thank God.” Kocis’ father croaked out a “thank you” to prosecutors as they approached the family.

Cuadra’s mother and sister tried not to cry. They bowed their heads as “guilty” was repeated, but stayed silent until Olszewksi instructed jurors to report today for the penalty phase. Then Cuadra’s mother burst into tears. She continued crying as she left the courtroom.

“My son is a victim! My son is a victim!” she shouted walking toward the basement exit. “I need my son!”

Cuadra’s family has maintained his innocence, believing Kerekes, Cuadra’s former lover and business partner, was the real killer.

During deliberations, Cuadra’s sister, Melissa, said her mother was “hanging on by a thread” from the stresses of the case. The 19-year-old from Greenville, S.C., said the family believes he was manipulated by Kerekes.

“We’ve believed in Harlow since the beginning that he’s innocent,” she said. “We know him.”

Some of those family members will likely take the stand today during the penalty phase. The prosecution will present aggravating factors that make the homicide more heinous. Jurors will weigh those against the defense’s mitigating circumstances, or reasons his life should be spared. Defense will likely call family members and a mitigation expert to cut through the two aggravating factors — the robbery and the arson charges.

One of those factors could be dropped if jurors believe Cuadra acted as an accomplice and not Kocis’ direct killer. Issuing the death penalty to an accomplice in a capital case is much more difficult, several attorneys said.

Before reaching a verdict, jurors asked Olszewski whether they could convict Cuadra of first-degree homicide if he was an accomplice and didn’t actually slit Kocis’ throat.

Olszewski reread the first-degree homicide statute to the jury, which says a defendant can be found guilty of first-degree murder, when he did not cause the murder directly, if he was an accomplice in the murder.

Testimony in Cuadra’s trial dragged through 12 days, as nearly 90 prosecution witnesses testified and hundreds of pieces of evidence were presented. Just two people testified for the defense, and only Cuadra’s testimony was substantial.

Kerekes, Cuadra’s former lover and coconspirator in the crime, was supposed to testify but changed his mind Tuesday after he took the stand.

He pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide and is serving a life sentence. In his plea, Kerekes, 35, said Cuadra alone slit Kocis’ throat.

Cuadra’s testimony had too many holes in it, said two of the three alternate jurors, who heard all the testimony but were released before the jury began deliberations.

The two men both said they had trouble believing parts of Cuadra’s story. Cuadra testified Kerekes had set up a meeting with Kocis, with a fake model name “Danny Moilin,” the night Kocis was killed. Cuadra said he thought the meeting, which he attended, was a potential video shoot with Kocis’ well-known company Cobra Video. It was a way to increase attention for their Web site, Cuadra said, but in the middle of the meeting, Kerekes stormed in the house and slashed Kocis’ throat.

“It seems like he didn’t finish his thoughts,” alternate juror four Francis Kopko said. “Some of it seemed credible and then you wondered about some aspects.”
According to the Times Leader, Harlow Cuadra slumped in his chair when he heard the jury foreperson say “guilty,” convicting him for the brutal slaying of Bryan Kocis in January 2007.

The verdict, which came after more than three hours of deliberation on Thursday, carries 12 convictions, including first-degree homicide. The jury will return today to determine whether Cuadra, 27, should be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Cuadra showed little emotion other than slumping in the chair. He appeared withdrawn and said nothing when escorted out of the Luzerne County Courthouse about an hour after the jury found him guilty.

His mother, Gladis Zaldivar, cried uncontrollably yelling out, “Joseph Kerekes, Joseph Kerekes, he is the killer, not my son.” She also yelled out in Spanish as she left the courthouse.

Cuadra was convicted for killing Kocis, 44, who was found dead with a slashed neck and 28 stab wounds inside his Midland Drive, Dallas Township, residence that was set ablaze on Jan. 24, 2007.

Investigators said Kocis was killed because Cuadra and his lover and business partner, Joseph 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.

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

Kocis’ parents, Michael and Joyce Kocis, tightly embraced one another as the verdicts were read just after 2 p.m. inside the crowded courtroom. They hugged District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll and lead prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick prior to exiting the courtroom.

They declined comment after Thursday’s proceeding.

Before the verdict was announced, Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. ordered sheriff deputies to remove anyone who causes an outburst in the crowded courtroom. Three sheriff deputies stood in the aisle, three stood near Cuadra and two stood near the door.

As the jury foreperson read the verdict, Cuadra’s mother shook her head “No” as she leaned forward.

Melnick, who along with assistant district attorneys Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski, refused comment due to a court-imposed gag order.

Cuadra’s attorneys, Joseph D’Andrea and Paul Walker, also declined comment. They consoled Cuadra after the verdict was announced.

Dallas Township police, state police at Wyoming and county detectives said Cuadra and Kerekes planned to kill Kocis by sending Cobra Video an actor’s application under the name Danny Moilin on Jan. 22. Two days earlier, the pair purchased background information through USA People Search that provided Kocis’ address, telephone number and names of neighbors.

Kocis invited Moilin to his home on Jan. 24.

Authorities learned Cuadra and Kerekes rented a 2006 Nissan XTerra and purchased a knife, a .38-caliber handgun and ammunition at a pawn shop in their hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., on Jan. 23. They checked in later that day at the Fox Ridge Inn in Plains Township and drove past Kocis’ home that night.

Investigators traced a number of e-mails and cell phone calls Kocis received to Cuadra and Kerekes, including an e-mail account that was used to send the actor’s application on Jan. 22.

The Yahoo! e-mail was never used after Kocis’ murder.

Melnick said the two began planning the murder after meeting Lockhart and his business partner, Grant Roy, at the Adult Video News expo in Las Vegas, Nev., in mid-January 2007.

A federal civil lawsuit Kocis filed against Lockhart, Roy and their production company LSG Media, reached a verbal settlement at the AVN expo. The settlement required Cobra Video to receive 20 percent of revenue earned from sales involving movies involving Lockhart.

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

Cuadra was the only witness to testify in his defense compared to 86 witnesses called by prosecutors during 12 days of testimony.

Cuadra blamed Kerekes for killing Kocis. He said he was inside Kocis’ residence talking to him when a jealous Kerekes stormed inside and slashed Kocis’ throat with a knife. Melnick said Kocis was nearly decapitated.

After Kocis’ murder, Cuadra and Kerekes fled their Virginia Beach home and stayed for about 45 days in South Beach, Fla. They met Roy and Lockhart in San Diego, Calif., on April 27 and April 28 where investigators intercepted two conversations through recording devices carried by Roy.

It was during conversations among the four men, Melnick said, that Cuadra and Kerekes made admissions to the murder.

Cuadra claimed he was scared of Kerekes, who was described during the trial as the more dominant one in their relationship.

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 death.

Olszewski said he will have the jury deliberate until a verdict is reached today. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision for the death penalty, Olszewski is mandated by law to sentence Cuadra to life in prison without parole.
Web sites, blogs abuzz following Cuadra conviction

The Citizens' Voice is reporting, do an Internet search for Harlow Cuadra and the first thing that pops up about the murdering male escort and gay pornography actor is a video of him lifting weights. You’ll find various pictures of him posing shirtless, kissing men and in prison jumpsuits.

Then there are links to news Web sites and blogs dedicated to the underground gay porn industry that have fixated on Cuadra’s sensational murder case.

The same online world Cuadra wanted to dominate — as an actor, producer and escort — Thursday was quick to react to the fall of the former rising porn star who killed one of the industry’s proven leaders, his rival Bryan Kocis, in a jealous rage.

As word spread Thursday that a Luzerne County jury convicted Cuadra of premeditated murder, gay news sites and blogs around the world, from to, quickly posted the unfolding drama as their top story. declared the “27-year-old wannabe porn star” was guilty.

XBIZ Newswire, a wire service for adult entertainment news, reported: “Harlow Cuadra — an escort, adult producer and Web site entrepreneur — has been found guilty of first-degree homicide.”

“Harlow & Joe … On Trial,” a blog that has been posting live updates and commentary based on local news reports, had more than 25 comments within two hours of the verdict, not one in support of Cuadra.

Porn and escort Web sites Cuadra and his admitted killer co-defendant Joseph Kerekes operated are no longer active. Various Web sites dedicated to Cuadra’s innocence, such as remain active, but activity on the sites has been limited. Friends of Cuadra and Kerekes initially tried to use the sites to sell merchandise for the duo to pay their attorneys.

Cobra Video’s Web site, a premier gay pornography site featuring young-looking men, which Kocis owned and ran, continues to operate and solicit models. It is unknown who now operates the site, which was lucrative.

It was Cuadra’s fascination to become as successful as Kocis that led him and Kerekes to a devise a plot to kill their rival, prosecutors alleged.
Additional Reports:

Citizens' Voice: Kocis neighbors satisfied with verdict.
Times Leader: Cuadra murder trial quotes.