Friday, March 6, 2009

Cuadra Trial... Day 8 Overview

The Citizens' Voice reports... slouching in his courtroom chair Thursday, a thin Harlow Cuadra didn’t look as jurors watched a video of him, shirtless, lifting dumbbells and flexing his muscles.

Instead, Cuadra, who is accused of killing Bryan Kocis on Jan. 24, 2007, kept his head down as the prosecution continued its capital homicide case against him in the eighth day of testimony.

Cuadra, 27, was very strong in January 2007, Lance Threadway testified. Threadway, who owns the Big House Gym in Virginia Beach, Va., said Cuadra and his former partner Joseph Kerekes, 35, worked out almost daily at the gym.

Attorney Joseph D’Andrea, who along with Paul J. Walker is defending Cuadra, hinted during opening statements that Cuadra was too weak in 2007 to overpower Kocis, 44, at his Dallas Township home and slash his throat. During cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, Walker and D’Andrea have tried to present Cuadra as the weaker partner, submissive to Kerekes.

Threadway disagreed.

“He was very strong for his size,” Threadway said.

Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty to second-degree homicide in December and is serving a life sentence. He is expected to testify on behalf of Cuadra next week.

Although he was smaller than Kerekes, Cuadra would lift about as much weight as Kerekes when they worked out, Threadway said. He verified Cuadra’s and Kerekes’ attendance records for his gym and watched the video of Cuadra lifting weights, saying Cuadra could lift more than was being shown.

The video was taken from the gay pornography Web site Cuadra ran with Kerekes. The two men co-owned a male escort and gay pornography business in Virginia Beach.

In the days surrounding Jan. 24, 2007, neither Cuadra nor Kerekes checked in at the gym. The first attendance record for Kerekes was on Jan. 26 and Jan. 27 for Cuadra, Threadway said.

Prosecution, lead by Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, called 13 witnesses Thursday. Sixty-eight witnesses have testified so far in the trial.

At least one more full day of prosecution testimony is expected.

Ryan Dunbar, who works at Superior Pawn Shoppe in Virginia Beach, said Kerekes sold several watches and diamond earrings on Feb. 10 for about $10,000. Kerekes seemed worried, Dunbar said, and he sold a prized watch, a gold Rolex. Cuadra was not with Kerekes, Dunbar said. Kerekes and Cuadra were known suspects in Kocis’ death by that point, according to news accounts.

Several prosecution witnesses Thursday testified as experts about various pieces evidence in the case:

Luzerne County Detective Lt. Gary Capitano testified to taking writing samples of Cuadra and Kerekes when the two men were jailed. FBI agent Antoine Frazier testified the handwriting in letters already presented to jurors where Cuadra asked friends for help with an alibi, matched Cuadra’s handwriting sample.

Two cameras matching the description of cameras taken from Kocis’ home that were found in Cuadra and Kerekes’ Virginia Beach home could have belonged to Kocis, testified George Skaluba of the FBI. Skaluba tested digital tapes known to have belonged to Kocis and compared them with sample tapes in a lab. The results showed the cameras were similar, but couldn’t conclusively indicate the cameras taken from the Virginia Beach home were Kocis’, Skaluba said. The serial numbers on the cameras were removed.

Jo Anne Armajhan, a forensic serologist, testified evidence from the sport utility vehicle Cuadra rented around the time of Kocis’ death, was inconclusive. One test revealed it could be blood matter, while another indicated it could not. No blood was found in Kocis’ home, which was set on fire after his homicide.
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Meanwhile... over at the Times Leader... Matthew Wade Brannon thought it was a scam.

Five days after first meeting Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes for an escort session in Virginia Beach, Va., Brannon said the pair asked him for $1,000.

Cuadra, 27, and Kerekes, 35, claimed they needed the money for a Webmaster course at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., Brannon said.

Brannon, 38, of North Carolina, said they offered him a free lifetime subscription to their gay pornographic Web site, boybatter.com, and a free boybatter DVD. He accepted the offer and charged the money to his credit card.

Prosecutors said Cuadra and Kerekes solicited Brannon within an hour after they allegedly killed Bryan Kocis, 44, inside Kocis’ Dallas Township home on Midland Drive on Jan. 24, 2007.

The solicitation was through several e-mails, with the initial e-mail requesting money sent to Brannon at 8:36 p.m. on Jan. 24.

Prosecutors said Kocis was killed sometime between 7:40 p.m., when witnesses on Midland Drive said they heard a car door shut outside Kocis’ residence, and 8:32 p.m., when a neighbor saw Kocis’ home ablaze.

Brannon was one of 14 people to testify on Thursday, the eighth day of Cuadra’s capital murder trial before a Luzerne County jury that is being presided over by Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.

Investigators allege Cuadra and Kerekes killed Kocis, whom they considered their main rival in the adult film production industry, and wanted to film movies with adult film actor Sean Lockhart, a contract actor for Kocis’ company, Cobra Video.

Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and is serving life in prison. Cuadra’s lawyers, Joseph D’Andrea and Paul Walker, may call Kerekes to testify next week on Cuadra’s behalf.

Cuadra could face the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree homicide.

Brannon told investigators that when he was with Cuadra on Jan. 19 and again on Jan. 20, 2007, Cuadra talked about filming an adult movie with Lockhart.

Prosecutors showed the jury the e-mails on Thursday that Brannon received from the two men the day Kocis was killed.

Virginia Beach gym owner, Lance Treadway, told the jury that Cuadra and Kerekes visited the gym every day, but they didn’t show up on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25, 2007.

Gym member Joseph John Zalusky said he worked out the same time with Cuadra and Kerekes, and described Cuadra as “a very strong gentleman” for his size.

Assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski are attempting to convince the jury that Cuadra had the strength to kill Kocis, despite his smaller appearance in court.

Zalusky said Cuadra benched-pressed 225 pounds, and Treadway recalled seeing Cuadra squatting several 45-pound plates on a 45-pound bar.

Prosecutors suspect Kerekes and Cuadra panicked when Virginia Beach police searched their home in the early morning of Feb. 10. Later that day, Kerekes sold jewelry and watches at a Virginia Beach pawn shop, telling employees two different stories as to the reason why he was selling the items.

Irving Walker III, of Superior Pawn Shop, told the jury that Kerekes wore clothes that someone “would pick up at a flea market.” Walker said Kerekes, a regular customer at the pawn shop, normally wore expensive clothing.

Handwriting samples from Cuadra and Kerekes, obtained by county Detective Lt. Gary Capitano by court order, were analyzed by Antoine Frazer, a document examiner for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Frazer told the jury the pair’s handwriting samples matched letters they sent to friends, including a receipt at a Plains Township motel with Kerekes’ handwriting, and a one-day registration form at the Odyssey Fitness Center, Wilkes-Barre, where Cuadra visited on Jan. 24, 2007.