Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jurors: Cuadra Sealed own Fate

The Times Leader is reporting that if it wasn’t for a cigarette break, the Harlow Cuadra trial could have ended in a mistrial, two jurors said Tuesday, a day after the 27-year-old from Virginia was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Bryan Kocis.

Thomas Stavitzski, juror No. 11, and James Scutt III, juror No. 12, said there were four jurors who weren’t convinced Cuadra actually killed Kocis, but rather believed that Joseph Kerekes, 35, was the murderer.

Both men said that, for them, it was Cuadra’s own testimony that ultimately sealed his fate.

Stavitzski and Scutt detailed what went on behind closed doors when the jury deliberated Cuadra’s fate after the 12-day trial and during the penalty phase.

Stavitzski said that during a break in deliberating on Thursday, several jurors went outside to have a cigarette, including the four jurors who weren’t convinced Cuadra killed Kocis.

“The jurors went out for a smoke, and when they returned, one of them told us she thought about the case when she was outside for a cigarette and came to agree (Cuadra) was guilty,” Stavitzski said. “The other jurors who had doubt then came around.”

“There were four jurors who thought it could have been Joe,” Scutt said. “You had no direct evidence, no DNA linking (Cuadra) to the murder. There was so much circumstantial evidence. There were several that couldn’t put the knife in his hand.”

Stavitzski and Scutt said they also had doubt Cuadra actually killed Kocis until Cuadra testified in his own defense. “To me, he solidified the whole case,” Scutt said.

“Harlow wasn’t answering the direct questions,” Stavitzski said. “In my mind, the evidence was circumstantial; he turned it into hard evidence. He was talking in circles.”

Attorney Joseph D’Andrea, who along with attorney Paul Walker represented Cuadra, said on Monday that having Cuadra testify “did more harm than he did good.”

D’Andrea added he would have had Cuadra testify if given the opportunity a second time.

Stavitzski said he noticed Cuadra wearing glasses and oversized shirts during the trial. When Cuadra testified, Stavitzski said, Cuadra immediately took off the glasses and kept them off.

“He basically looked like a kid sitting there at the table,” Stavitzski said. “But as soon as he took the stand, he took off the glasses and he sounded like Hulk Hogan giving a wrestling interview. He had more holes in his testimony than Swiss cheese.”

Throughout the trial, Cuadra’s attorneys shifted blame for Kocis’ murder onto Kerekes, suggesting Kerekes was the more dominant one in the relationship between him and Cuadra. Stavitzski and Scutt said that argument worked on several jurors, but not with them.

“Their relationship was brought up a lot in deliberations,” Stavitzski said. “Joe was more muscle but Harlow was the brains.”

“As far as Joe being dominant and Harlow acting as the housewife, I found that hard to believe,” Scutt said.

Kerekes briefly appeared during the trial under a subpoena issued by Cuadra’s lawyers. When he took the witness stand, Kerekes opted not to testify on Cuadra’s behalf.

“Harlow gave (Kerekes) a look to kill,” Stavitzski said. Had Kerekes testified, Stavitzski and Scutt said it wouldn’t have mattered.

“I would have taken into consideration his credibility,” Stavitzski said. “What did he have to lose, he had nothing to gain. For what he did, I have to respect him for telling the truth.”

Kerekes said from the witness stand on March 10: “I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents. I think it will destroy them to say something that I didn’t do. What I told you (D’Andrea) is untrue.”

D’Andrea informed the jury that he met Kerekes several times before Kerekes’ appearance during the trial.

“I think Joe told the truth on the witness stand,” Scutt said.

Stavitzski said testimony from forensic pathologist Dr. Mary Pascucci, who performed Kocis’ autopsy, was powerful in explaining Kocis suffered a single swipe from a knife that nearly decapitated him.

“She explained it was one swipe that ended Bryan’s life,” Stavitzski said. “Harlow’s description of Joe storming in and fighting with Bryan, and slashing his neck twice and Bryan is still talking was just unbelievable.”

The two jurors said that if Kerekes and Kocis fought the way that Cuadra claimed the fight occurred, there would have been defensive wounds on Kocis’ arms.

“If someone is coming at you with a knife, what’s the first thing you do, you put up your arms,” Stavitzski said.

“Bryan didn’t have any injuries or stab wounds on his arms,” Scutt said.

Stavitzski said the relationship between Cuadra and Kerekes was solidified when assistant district attorneys Michael Melnick, Shannon Crake and Allyson Kacmarski played to the jury recorded conversations of the two men with Lockhart and Grant Roy.

Roy, a producer of gay pornographic films based in San Diego, Calif., wore a body wire on two consecutive days when he met with Cuadra and Kerekes in late April 2007.

“Those tapes that were played, I got to know their mannerisms, I got to know what this whole case is about,” Stavitzski said. “Harlow did a lot of talking on those tapes; it showed me he was at the house.”

The jury deliberated for nearly three hours and 30 minutes before they reached a verdict convicting Cuadra. Scutt said the jury convicted Cuadra in three hours, and allowed 30 minutes for jurors to express their thoughts and opinions before they notified the court that a verdict had been reached.

During deliberations in the penalty phase, Scutt said, four jurors had difficulty in imposing capital punishment.

“We all agreed Harlow played a part in the murder as an accomplice, but those four couldn’t put the knife in his hands,” Scutt said. “It was an emotional trial, one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life.”
Additional Articles:

Juror’s faith in county justice system restored during Cuadra trial
Kocis’ parents still without closure