Monday, March 16, 2009

Harlow Cuadra's Trial... Penalty Phase Day 2

Verdict: Life Without Parole

7:35 PM: I can now confirm that Harlow's official sentence is as follows:

Life w/o Parole for first-degree murder
Life w/o Parole for criminal conspiracy engaging
20 Years for the rest
1 Year probation.

Meanwhile... a reliable source just told me... 'all of those sentences are consecutive, not concurrent. essentially, he'd need two lives and then some to serve his sentences'.

4:52 PM: According to the Citizens' Voice, Harlow Cuadra will serve life in prison, after the jury of eight men and four women could not reach a unanimous decision whether prosecution presented any aggravating factors worthy of the death penalty.

The same jury that convicted Cuadra Thursday of first-degree homicide for Bryan Kocis' January 2007 murder at his Dallas Township reached an impasse today. The jury deliberated for about five and a half hours before telling count Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. they could not reach a unanimous verdict despite being given more time by the judge.

The jury returned to the courtroom around 2:30 to tell Olszewski they agreed one of the factors wasn't valid, but had reach an impasse on the other.

Olszewski instructed jurors to try and reach a unanimous decision. The jury foreman didn't specify which of the two aggravating factors they were undecided.

4:50 PM: The Times Leader is reporting that a Luzerne County jury has decided Harlow Cuadra will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The jury came to a unanimous decision of life in prison without the possibility parole.

4:49 PM:Life without Parole.

2:57 PM: Meanwhile, the Citizens' Voice is reporting that jurors will continue deliberations after telling county Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. they are at an impasse over one of the two aggravating factors.

The jury foreman said the jury unanimously agrees that one of the two aggravating factors is not valid in the case, but is at an impasse on the other.

Olszewski told jurors to return to its chambers to continue deliberations and to try and reach a unanimous decision.

If jurors find one aggravating factor, they will have to weigh it against mitigating circumstances.

2:55 PM: According to the Times Leader, the Luzerne County jury will continue to deliberate the fate of Harlow Cuadra's future after it advised the judge they couldn't reach an unanimous decision.

The jury foreman told Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. that there was confusion on one of the two aggravating circumstances, which are robbery and endangering firefighters.

Olszewski advised the jury to continue to deliberate. If the jury is unable to reach an unanimous decision, Olszewski will be mandated under the law to sentence Cuadra to life in prison.

The same jury deliberating Cuadra's fate convicted him last week in the killing of Bryan Kocis, 44, in Dallas Township in January 2007.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said Cuadra set Kocis' home on fire, which endangered firefighters, and stole items from the home in a robbery.

2:30 PM: The jury is back.

1:16 PM: Sources tell me that the jury is still deliberating. I'm a little surprised it's taking this long.

12:35 PM: A court watcher tells me that Harlow looked pretty down today. More than during the trial. His mother is a wreck, but can't really say if Harlow's any more upbeat or depressed than last week. He was only in court for a couple hours this morning.

12:19 PM: Sources tell me that the jury continues to deliberate. I can't imagine it's going to be too much longer.

11:24 AM: The Citizens' Voice reports that Harlow Cuadra's fate is in the hands of the jury, who will decide if he deserves death for the murder of Bryan Kocis.

Jurors left the courtroom at 11:04 a.m. to weigh two aggravating factors connected to the murder-- the robbery, a felony, and arson charges, which risked firefighters lives -- against mitigating circumstances presented by Cuadra's attorneys.

Cuadra was convicted Thursday of first-degree homicide by the same jury for the Jan. 24, 2007, murder and arson at Kocis' Dallas Township home.

Lead prosecutor Michael Melnick showed jurors prosecution evidence during closing arguments. He showed the knife that likely killed Kocis, and described how it slashed Kocis' neck and nearly decapitated him. He replayed wire-tapped conversations Cuadra had at a beach outside San Diego.

“Actually, seeing that (expletive) going down, actually it’s sick, but it made me feel better inside,” Cuadra said on the tape, referring to Kocis.

Melnick questioned Cuadra's service in the Navy, saying it shouldn't be considered as a mitigating circumstance. Cuadra was honorably discharged after serving nearly three years in the Navy, but it was shortly before the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

"Did the defendant, as he’s presenting, demonstrate selfless sacrifice or selfish indulgence?" Melnick asked.

"The appropriate sentence in this case is that of capital punishment," he said later.

Paul J. Walker, one of Cuadra's two attorneys, presented eight mitigating circumstances, including Cuadra's Naval service, sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the dysfunctional childhood he had, among others.

Cuadra's mother cried as Walker described the impoverished broken home of Cuadra's youth.

Walker challenged Melnick's assertion that Cuadra didn't honorably serve the Navy, calling it ridiculous. Cuadra was discharged because he openly admitted he was a homosexual. He was not scheduled to be deployed overseas when he was discharged, Walker told jurors.

“To suggest he had not served his country admirably is an insult to you and an insult to him,” he said.

Walker also told jurors that, by law, they cannot accept the burglary charge as an aggravating factor, if they believe Cuadra was an accomplice in the crime. In Pennsylvania, someone can be convicted of first-degree homicide as an accomplice. Cuadra's former partner and lover Joseph Kerekes pleaded guilty in December to second-degree homicide in the crime and is serving a life sentence. The law says the burglary charge, a felony, can be used as an aggravating circumstance if jurors believe Cuadra in fact slashed Kocis' throat and then robbed him. If Cuadra was an accomplice, it can't be considered, he said.

Walker also said that the fire, which prosecutors say endangered the lives of firefighters, shouldn't be considered. Risking the lives of others while committing a murder is used as an aggravating factor if it happens in the act of the killing. Kocis died of stab wounds, not the fire, Walker said.

"When a person is sentenced to life in prison, that is exactly what it means," Walker said. "Life is life in Pennsylvania...he will spend the rest of his time in prison."

11:02 AM: According to the Times Leader, the Luzerne County jury that convicted Harlow Cuadra last week in the brutal killing of Bryan Kocis will soon consider if he should spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed.

Prosecutors and Cuadra's lawyers gave closing arguments to the jury this morning.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said Cuadra deliberately killed Kocis and set his home Dallas Township home on fire that endangered firefighters. Several items were stolen from Kocis' home, Melnick said.

The danger to firefighters and the robbery are two aggravating circumstances for capital punishment.

Attorney Paul Walker pleaded with the jury to spare Cuadra's life, saying Cuadra was raised in a dysfunctional family and honorably served with the U.S. Navy.

As throughout the three week trial, Walker blamed Cuadra's lover, Joseph Kerekes, for the killing.

Walker said Kerekes convinced Cuadra to leave the Navy, held onto Cuadra's credit cards and driver's license, and controlled Cuadra's life.

The jury of eight men and four women will begin deliberating Cuadra's punishment once Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. is finished giving them instructions.

9:28 AM: While we await the first tidbits of news, I stumbled upon two additional articles in today's Times Leader: Defense not lacking for experience, and an op-ed by Ed Lewis called Truth trumps every word out of killer Cuadra.

7:53 AM: Closing arguments in the penalty phase are expected to begin today at 9:00 AM, then the jury will decide if Harlow Cuadra is given the death penalty, or life in prison without parole. Stay tuned for further updates throughout the day.

There's also an article about this in today's Times Leader: Cuadra may learn fate today.