Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cuadra Trial... Day 7 Overview

Mitch Halford

According to the Citizens' Voice... a panicked Harlow Cuadra needed someone to support an alibi that he wasn’t in Pennsylvania on Jan. 24, 2007, the night Bryan Kocis was killed at his Dallas Township home, a friend and former client said Wednesday.

“A bad alibi is better than no alibi,” Cuadra told him, Howard Mitchell Halford testified during the seventh day of testimony in Cuadra’s capital homicide trial.

Three of prosecution’s 13 witnesses who testified Wednesday described potential alibis Cuadra had pursued leading up to his trial. Cuadra, 27, is accused of killing Kocis, 44, to eliminate him as a potential rival of the gay pornography business he co-owned with Joseph Kerekes. Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide and is serving a life sentence.

Halford met Cuadra through the male escort service Cuadra co-owned with Kerekes in Virginia Beach, Va. Halford said he loved Cuadra. He often worried about him and gave Cuadra a key to his home, he said, so Cuadra could “have an option” if there was ever a problem with Kerekes. Since Cuadra’s arrest, Halford said he has donated more than $70,000 to Cuadra for his legal fund and other expenses.

But, Halford said, he never lied to police.

“You were not with him on Jan. 24?” Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick asked.

“No,” Halford said.

Halford read from letters Cuadra sent him, asking Halford to support an alibi. He sighed. He paused after being asked questions by Melnick and Cuadra’s attorney Joseph D’Andrea. Halford pointed to Cuadra when asked to identify him, but otherwise tried to avoid eye contact with Cuadra as he testified. Cuadra took notes during the testimony.

Throughout the trial Cuadra’s attorneys, D’Andrea and Paul Walker, have tried to paint Cuadra as submissive to Kerekes. Halford agreed, saying Cuadra was like a “battered spouse.” During cross-examination, Halford described a story of Kerekes visiting Halford’s apartment and taking Cuadra away.

“And, Harlow, like a little puppy, succumbed to his master, Joe?” D’Andrea asked.

“Totally,” Halford said.

Nep Maliki also loved Cuadra. Like Halford, Maliki testified he met the 27-year-old through his escort business. Cuadra sent Maliki several letters from prison asking Maliki to remember facts about an alibi that was made up, Maliki said. He too read from the letters Cuadra had sent, but Maliki said he never lied to police or followed through with the proposed alibi plan. Maliki, who works two fast food restaurant jobs in Virginia Beach, testified he donated $50 to Cuadra’s legal defense fund.

Renee Martin, a neighbor of Cuadra and Kerekes at the time of their arrest, testified she talked to Kerekes hundreds or thousands of times, while the two men were jailed in Virginia Beach related to the Kocis killing. In those conversations, Martin said, Cuadra and Kerekes established a “Plan B” alibi, in which Kerekes would say he was at a local motel at the time of Kocis’ death and Cuadra arrived to see Kocis’ Midland Drive home on fire.

Jurors listened to two of the taped conversations, which lasted less than 10 minutes each.

Like his former co-defendant and partner, Kerekes, Cuadra filed an alibi defense after being arrested in May 2007. Since then, prosecutors have filed several documents trying to tear through proposed alibi defenses of Cuadra and Kerekes.

The prosecution’s other witnesses Wednesday verified various records, from electronic files related to Cuadra’s MySpace Web page, phone logs and a purchase of lighter fluid and other goods made at Wal-Mart in Wilkes-Barre Township the day Kocis was killed. Because the items were paid for in cash, the witness couldn’t verify who had bought the items.

Nep Maliki

Meanwhile, over at the Times Leader... mouths opened and eyes widened among a few jurors on Wednesday when a customer of Harlow Cuadra’s male escort business in Virginia testified he gave Cuadra $70,000 to help pay for his defense on criminal homicide charges.

Howard Mitchell Hallford, 48, told the Luzerne County jury he gave the money to Cuadra, 27, because he loves him. Hallford, of Atlanta, Ga., further testified he gave Cuadra keys to his then-Virginia Beach, Va., residence in early 2007 as an “option” when Cuadra was a suspect in the murder of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township in January 2007.

Cuadra and his business partner in the escort business and the production of gay pornographic movies, Joseph Kerekes, were arrested on May 15, 2007, in the slaying of Kocis, 44, inside Kocis’ Midland Drive home on Jan. 24, 2007. Prosecutors claim Kocis was killed because Cuadra and Kerekes considered him their main rival in the 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 pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and is serving life in prison. Cuadra could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree homicide.

Hallford was one of three escort customers who testified Wednesday, the seventh day of Cuadra’s capital murder trial before Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.

Hallford’s testimony appeared to affect the jury, several of whom readjusted themselves in their seats, leaned forward and wrote what he was saying in their notebooks.

Hallford said Cuadra told him to tell investigators that they were together the night Kocis was killed.

“Basically, he didn’t have an alibi for that night,” Hallford said.

Hallford told the jury he saw Cuadra once in late January 2007 and gave him $70,000 because he loves him. “That was the reason for the money,” Hallford said, apparently surprising the jury.

Nep Maliki, a fast-food restaurant employee in Virginia Beach, said he was an escort customer of Cuadra’s and he also felt he was in love with him. He donated $50 to Cuadra’s defense, Maliki said.

Assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski showed the jury a letter Cuadra allegedly wrote to Maliki on June 13, 2007.

In the letter that Cuadra began, “For your eyes only,” he gave explicit instructions to Maliki to remember certain events in an attempt to have Maliki as an alibi witness.

“I remember that you came over on January 24th (2007) around 7:30 a.m., maybe it was 8 a.m. You had on black jeans and a black heavy sweater. Black slip-on shoes,” Cuadra wrote.

Cuadra also coached Maliki to tell investigators that a silver Nissan XTerra was parked in front of his Virginia Beach home.

Prosecutors allege Cuadra leased a silver Nissan XTerra that he used to drive to Kocis’ home from Virginia Beach.

Maliki said he held onto the letter for six months, carrying it in his pocket.

After Cuadra was charged with Kocis’ murder, prosecutors claim Cuadra also sought money from escort customer Joseph Ryan, a computer consultant in Norfolk, Va. Unlike Hallford and Maliki, Ryan casually told the jury that he gave Cuadra more than $7,000.

Upon questioning by Cuadra’s lawyers, Joseph D’Andrea and Paul Walker, Ryan said Kerekes was the more dominant person in the relationship, adding that Kerekes gave Cuadra a black eye.

It has been part of Cuadra’s defense by his lawyers since testimony began eight days ago to shift blame onto Kerekes.

Prosecutors continued on Wednesday to present witnesses testifying about the motive that led to Kocis’ murder.

Adam Greibier said he worked for Cuadra and Kerekes as an escort and appeared in one of their adult films titled, “Young Bucks In Heat II.” Greibier described their relationship as a “joint power,” and they wanted Lockhart for their adult film business.

“It would definitely bring their company to a new level,” Greibier said, if Cuadra and Kerekes produced movies with Lockhart. “It was general knowledge that Cobra Video was the leading seller of gay adult films.”

Prosecutors played to the jury two out of the thousands of jailhouse phone calls between Cuadra, Kerekes and their friend Renee Martin.

Martin, who lived near the two men in Virginia Beach, said she paid for the phone calls in which prosecutors said Cuadra and Kerekes talked about making up an alibi plan that they called Plan B.

“Don’t make my hole too deep to crawl out of,” Cuadra was heard saying to Kerekes. “I know (investigators) don’t believe that I opened the door and saw the body. I know they don’t believe that.”

Kerekes was heard saying, “I think the detectives are hard up on evidence.”