Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cuadra Trial... Day 9 Overview

The Citizens' Voice reports that Bryan Kocis’ mother averted her eyes Friday as prosecutors showed photos of the charred, black living room where Kocis’ body was found after a raging fire was extinguished on Jan. 24, 2007.

For 20 years her son called the 60 Midland Drive property in Dallas Township his home, but the fire, so large neighbors had to evacuate, destroyed the house where 44-year-old Kocis lived most of his adult life.

That fire, state police Fire Marshal Ron Jarocha testified, was set intentionally.

“There were no accidental causes discovered that would’ve caused the fire,” Jarocha said in the ninth day of testimony in Harlow Cuadra’s capital homicide trial.

Cuadra, 27, is accused of stabbing Kocis to death and setting fire to the two-story home to lure an actor from Kocis to the gay pornography business he co-owned with his partner Joseph Kerekes in Virginia Beach, Va. Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide and is serving a life sentence.

In addition to homicide and other charges, Cuadra is accused of arson. Five of the 11 witnesses Friday testified about the fire.

Prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, is using the arson charge as one reason to pursue the death penalty. The fire, prosecutors allege, put firefighters’ lives at risk and should be considered by jurors to issue the death penalty if they convict Cuadra of first-degree homicide.

Jarocha, a fire marshal of 15 years, testified the fire originated from underneath a love seat in Kocis’ living room, where his body was found.

Jarocha determined the point of origin because of heavier burn patterns present underneath and behind the love seat, which should be protected areas from the fire. Jarocha could not conclusively say an accelerant, such as gasoline, was used to start the fire. A gas can was found on Kocis’ porch by investigators.

“You couldn’t say with certainty that gas or any other accelerant was used?” asked attorney Paul J. Walker, who along with Joseph D’Andrea is representing Cuadra.

“No,” Jarocha said. “You can set fires on purpose without an accelerant.”

Regardless, Jarocha said, the blaze was very dangerous for the firefighters.

Four Dallas Township Fire and Ambulance firefighters testified to the extreme heat, smoke and other conditions they faced in extinguishing the fire.

“That was a very dangerous fire,” Vivian said. “All structure fires are dangers, but we had fire go right up the walls. The roof could’ve collapsed.”

But, the roof didn’t collapse and no firefighters were injured, Vivian said, when being cross-examined by D’Andrea.

State Trooper Brian Murphy started his testimony Friday, and will continue Monday when the trial resumes. Murphy, who is a computer crime investigator, connected various pieces of evidence Friday that prosecutors had previously presented. Murphy showed numerous e-mails between Kocis’ e-mail account and an account run by “Danny Moilin.” Moilin, prosecutors say, was Cuadra pretending to be a potential model in order to meet with Kocis on Jan. 24. Murphy said data connected to many of the e-mails showed they were sent from the Virginia Beach house where Cuadra lived with Kerekes.

The e-mail account was almost exclusively used to contact Kocis, Murphy testified. Jurors were shown nude photos attached to the e-mails from Moilin, who resembled Cuadra.

Kocis’ friend Sam Hall testified earlier. Hall helped broker a deal between Kocis and Sean Lockhart, a well-known gay pornography actor who had worked for Kocis. Shortly before his death, Kocis resolved a year-long legal dispute with Lockhart and his business partner Grant Roy because Hall worked as a mediator, Hall testified.

Both Lockhart and Roy testified previously.
According to the Times Leader, gasps were heard from those in the packed Luzerne County courtroom when a nude picture of Harlow Cuadra in a provocative position was shown to a jury on Friday.

A few heads turned away from the screen, including Cuadra and his mother, Gladys.

The picture was one of several, prosecutors believe, Cuadra e-mailed to Bryan Kocis under the disguise he was applying to become an adult film actor for Kocis’ production company, Cobra Video, in January 2007.

Trooper Brian Murphy, a computer forensic investigator, said he traced more than a dozen e-mails and pictures sent to Kocis from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24 to computers at Cuadra’s home in Virginia Beach, Va., and a laptop computer wireless air card registered to Cuadra.

Cuadra’s pictures apparently caught Kocis’ attention because he requested more photographs. Cuadra e-mailed the same pictures, and as Murphy read each e-mail to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said there was “no need to show” the provocative picture again.

Investigators alleged Cuadra and his business partner, Joseph Kerekes, killed Kocis, whom they considered their main rival in the gay adult film production industry, and wanted to film movies with adult film actor Sean Lockhart, a contract actor for Cobra Video.

Kocis, 44, was found dead inside his Midland Drive, Dallas Township, home that was set ablaze on Jan. 24, 2007.

Kerekes, 35, pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. A subpoena was issued on Friday for Kerekes, who is expected to testify on Cuadra’s behalf early next week.

Murphy will continue his testimony on Monday when Cuadra’s trial resumes before Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.

Melnick, and assistant district attorneys Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski, are expected to rest their case against Cuadra on Monday or early Tuesday.

State police deputy fire marshal Trooper Ron Jarocha testified the blaze that destroyed Kocis’ home was intentionally set. He was able to pinpoint the start of the fire behind a love seat in the living room where Kocis’ body was found on a couch.

Jarocha said the front door was open several inches, causing flames to spread outside.

“The fire went toward oxygen; the oxygen pulled the fire out,” Jarocha said.

Flames through the open door delayed firefighters from rushing inside to search for Kocis. After the fire was knocked down in the area of the front porch, three fighters crawled on their hands and knees inside the residence “feeling” for Kocis.

Visibility in the home was described by Dallas firefighters Leonard Roginski, Ralph Schwartz and Shavertown firefighter Jeff Beisel as “very poor” and “near zero” due to blinding black smoke. They used their axes to tap the floor to make sure the floor hadn’t collapsed, the firefighters told the jury.

“We were crawling … I was behind Schwartz and tapped his boot, let him know I was there,” Roginski told the jury. “There was a lot of heat, there was that possibility of collapse.”

It took three search attempts by firefighters until Kocis’ body was found. Jarocha said several smoke alarms inside the home were found removed from ceiling brackets.

An engineer from Verizon Wireless and an expert in wireless communications testified that cell phone signals to a cell phone registered to Cuadra were processed through a cell tower near Kocis’ home, beginning at 8:34 p.m. on Jan. 24.

Prosecutors said Kocis was killed 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.