Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Joe was 'Supposed' to Say...

Joseph Kerekes

According to the Citizens' Voice... throughout the trial, Harlow Cuadra’s defense attorneys said he was controlled by his domineering lover and business partner Joseph Kerekes. They say Kerekes was in control again last week when he promised to testify Cuadra was innocent of Bryan Kocis’ murder, then took the stand and refused, delivering a giant blow to Cuadra’s defense.

With the gag order lifted after Cuadra’s sensational murder case ended Monday, one of his attorneys for the first time publicly detailed how the defense was duped by Kerekes in an unexpected case-shifting move.

Up until five minutes before he took the stand, Kerekes had promised to testify Cuadra was unaware of the murder plot, “had nothing to do with it” and planned to detail to the jury how the homicide occurred, said attorney Joseph D’Andrea, who defended Cuadra along with attorney Paul J. Walker.

“We were taken aback,” D’Andrea said. “It again showed Joseph Kerekes trying to control Harlow Cuadra’s life. Joe Kerekes controlled Harlow for one last time.”

Without Kerekes’ testimony, it was up to Cuadra to convince a jury he was innocent. But when he took the stand on his own behalf, he “did more harm than good,” D’Andrea noted.

“He wasn’t the best witness. We were hoping he would have been more cooperative, not as combative. But your life is on the line and it’s difficult to be calm,” he said.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick, the lead prosecutor, called Cuadra “his own worst enemy” on the stand.

“I think he did very poorly — contradictory and utterly inconsistent,” Melnick said.

Melnick said the defense erred by thinking it could place any faith in Kerekes, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Kocis’ death in December and agreed to serve life in prison. The prosecution didn’t even consider calling Kerekes as a witness against Cuadra because the case was strong enough without his testimony, plus he could do something unpredictable, as the defense experienced, Melnick said.

“What happened to attorney D’Andrea came as no surprise to us, but that became his problem, not ours,” Melnick said. “The last thing I wanted was Kerekes as a witness on my side.”

In his plea agreement, Kerekes pinned the murder on Cuadra, and “would have had to take the stand and point-blank commit perjury” if he testified Cuadra was innocent, Melnick said.

D’Andrea said he met with Kerekes several times, including at the Luzerne County Courthouse minutes before taking the stand. Kerekes assured he was “going to testify on Harlow’s behalf to exonerate him,” D’Andrea said.

Kerekes then took the stand, refused to testify and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents, and it would destroy them if I said something that I didn’t do.”

“Somehow, in that five-minute period, something or someone got to him. He changed his mind,” D’Andrea said.