Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Harlow Cuadra... Life without Parole (x2)

The Citizens' Voice reports that their arms interlocked and tears rolled down their face as the family of Bryan Kocis, who sat through countless hours of hearings related to his murder, stood Monday within an arm’s reach of the man guilty of killing their brother and son.

“I certainly hope that a day does not go by for the rest of your life that you do not remember the tragic, the grief, the pain, the endless pain that you have caused that family,” county Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said before sentencing Harlow Cuadra to two consecutive life sentences plus additional time for the murder of Kocis in January 2007.

Cuadra, 27, said nothing before Olsewski sentenced him. He wiped tears from his face, but stood stoic, while his mother sobbed and muttered 50 feet behind him, seated on a courthouse bench.

Olszewski’s words were a formality, life in prison was the state-mandated sentence for first-degree homicide after the jury of eight men and four women couldn’t reach a unanimous decision about the death penalty. Shackled and handcuffed, Cuadra listened as Olszewski closed a more than two-year-long case for prosecutors, detectives and the Kocis family.

“My brother was my best friend and you’ll never have a clue what you took away from us,” Kocis’ sister Melody Bartusek told Cuadra.

Lead prosecutor Michael Melnick hugged Kocis’ mother after she fought through tears to tell Cuadra about her son.

“I hope you think every day of Bryan and the awful deed you did to him,” Joyce Kocis said.

Cuadra will be transported to a state correctional institution within 10 days to serve his life sentence.

“I’m not happy about the (life sentence),” Kocis’ father, Michael Kocis, told Olszewski. “My son is in a jar. We have him in ashes and I don’t see him walking around. What (Cuadra) did was unconscionable.”

Kocis, 44, was stabbed to death at his Dallas Township home before his house was set on fire. Kocis, a rival pornography producer, was killed by Cuadra and his former lover Joseph Kerekes, the jury decided, in order to help their burgeoning gay pornography business. They wanted to lure an actor from Kocis’ studio to their own in Virginia Beach, Va., prosecutors allege. Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide and is serving a life sentence.

Kocis’ disfigured body and the wreckage left at his home from the Jan. 24, 2007, murder created a crime scene nearly impossible to sort through, Melnick said. He described how state troopers and detectives “literally crawled through debris” in bitter cold January temperatures to search for evidence. The investigation “went from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the coast of the Pacific,” including wire taps at a beach near San Diego, mining through countless computer records and forensic pathology studies, Melnick said.

“At that time, I wondered if we would ever see this day,” Melnick said, before effusing praise on investigators and fellow Assistant District Attorneys Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski, his co-counsel on the case.

The same jury that convicted Cuadra on Thursday of first-degree homicide deliberated for about five-and-a-half hours Monday before telling Olszewski they could not reach a unanimous verdict. Jurors were given two aggravating factors to consider in the case — the arson and robbery charges. After three-and-a-half hours, the jury returned to the courtroom, explaining they had dismissed one of the two, but were at an impasse on the other. Olszewski instructed to try to reach a unanimous decision, but after two more hours of deliberating, they said they couldn’t.

Paul J. Walker, who along with Joseph D’Andrea represented Cuadra, told jurors during his closing argument that if they believe Cuadra was an accomplice in Kocis’ death, with Kerekes as the primary killer, they should disregard the robbery charge as an aggravating factor. Cuadra could have been convicted of first-degree homicide as an accomplice, according to Pennsylvania law — jurors didn’t specify if that was the case. Getting the death penalty is much more difficult for an accomplice, attorneys said.

D’Andrea said he believes the defense was able to convince the jury Cuadra was not the principal murderer.

“Academically, that sounds good, but in practical terms, he still was found guilty of a murder as an accomplice,” he said.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, Melnick said, because Cuadra was found guilty of first-degree homicide, but he thinks Cuadra slashed Kocis’ throat.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Harlow Cuadra killed Bryan Kocis,” he said.

Leaving the courthouse, Cuadra’s mother, Gladis Zaldivar, sobbed and had her family shield her as she walked down the basement hall toward the exit. She continually yelled, “My son is innocent!”

Moments earlier, she sat in a chair next to her son, alone in the courtroom with him. The judge, jury and attorneys had all left the crying mother to say goodbye to her son.

Downstairs in the courthouse rotunda, Kocis’ family hugged investigators and wiped away tears.

“We have been through hell,” Michael Kocis said. “It will never be over for us, but I’m just glad it has come to a close.”

Harlow Cuadra

Meanwhile, according to the Times Leader, a shackled Harlow Cuadra dropped his shoulders and leaned back when a Luzerne County judge on Monday sentenced him to two consecutive life terms in prison for the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis.

After he was sentenced, a teary-eyed Cuadra, 27, sat and stared at his mother, Gladis Zaldivar, in the gallery. The two mouthed “I love you” before Cuadra was handcuffed and escorted to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, where he will be kept until he is transferred to a state prison within the next 10 days.

He declined comment when he was taken from the courthouse.

The jury of eight men and four women that convicted Cuadra of first-degree murder was unable to reach a unanimous decision to impose the death penalty after nearly five hours of deliberating.

Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. was mandated under state law to sentence Cuadra to life in prison with no chance for parole. Cuadra was also sentenced to a second life term for conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, plus 8.6 years to 18.8 years on other charges.

Cuadra was found guilty by the jury on Thursday of killing Kocis, 44, inside Kocis’ residence in Dallas Township that was set ablaze.

Assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski said Kocis died from a slash to his neck that nearly decapitated him and was stabbed 28 times before flames burned approximately 90 percent of his body.

“After this victim was killed, this defendant first stabbed the victim in and about the abdomen and chest 28 times,” Olszewski said during the sentencing hearing. “Above and beyond that, he set the house ablaze that resulted in a fire that burned the victim beyond recognition.”

Investigators said Kocis was killed because Cuadra and his lover, Joseph Kerekes, considered Kocis 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.

Cuadra and Kerekes, 35, operated a male escorting business and an Internet-based gay pornography production company in Virginia Beach, Va.

Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

“It has been a long two years, two months,” Bryan’s father, Michael Kocis, said after Cuadra was sentenced. “We’re glad it has come to a conclusion. He was the best son we could ever have.”

Joyce Kocis, Bryan’s mother, tearfully said Melnick promised her two years ago that her son’s killer would be caught and convicted.

“I won’t use the word happy, because I don’t think we will ever be happy,” Michael said.

Cuadra was convicted of first-degree homicide, conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, abuse of corpse, robbery, theft, tampering with evidence, two counts of arson and four conspiracy charges after a 12-day trial.

The jury began deliberating Cuadra’s punishment just before 11 a.m. Monday after Melnick and Cuadra’s co-defense lawyer Paul Walker presented closing arguments.

Melnick pushed for capital punishment, telling the jury Cuadra endangered firefighters and stole laptop computers, cameras and a Rolex watch from Kocis’ home.

The danger to firefighters battling the intense blaze at Kocis’ residence and the items stolen during a robbery were two aggravating factors prosecutors sought for the death penalty.

Walker told the jury Cuadra honorably served in the U.S. Navy before being discharged and grew up in a dysfunctional family. He said Cuadra’s natural father never wanted him and Cuadra was a model inmate while jailed at Lackawanna County Prison, where he translated religious services into Spanish for Hispanic inmates.

Walker repeated during his closing argument as he had during trial that Kerekes was the more dominant person in the relationship with Cuadra.

“Kerekes got him out of the Navy, Kerekes got him in escorting … Kerekes controlled (Cuadra’s) credit cards and driver’s license,” Walker said.

During the trial, Walker and co-defense lawyer Joseph D’Andrea shifted blame to Kerekes, who they say actually killed Kocis.
Additional Articles:

Emotional lead prosecutor lauds all who aided conviction

Defense: Cuadra testimony more harmful than helpful