WILKES-BARRE — Harlow Cuadra’s trial attorneys on Friday defended their defense of what a jury found indefensible.
Cuadra, convicted of first-degree murder nearly four years ago in the 2007 slaying of Dallas Township resident Bryan Kocis, maintains he’s entitled to a new trial due to ineffective counsel — and, he says, because his co-defendant and former boyfriend Joseph Kerekes was the actual killer.
The 32-year-old convicted murderer sat silent in Luzerne County Court Friday morning as his former lawyers took their turns in the witness box, answering attorneys’ questions about their handling of his case during a hearing before Judge Fred A. Pierantoni III on Cuadra’s Post-Conviction Relief Act filing.
“My life was devoted to Harlow,” lawyer Joseph D’Andrea said of his work on Cuadra’s case during the 76 days between his first appearance on the defendant’s behalf and the start of Cuadra’s trial, which began on Feb. 24, 2009.
D’Andrea and Paul Walker, who represented Cuadra at trial, were quizzed Friday by Cuadra’s current attorney, Demetrius Fannick, and by Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick.
Prosecutors allege Cuadra and Kerekes, 40, who were partners in an escort business and website pornographic production company, came to the Wyoming Valley from Virginia with a plan to kill Kocis, whom they considered their main rival. Kocis’ badly mutilated and burned body was found inside his Midland Drive home that was set ablaze on Jan. 24, 2007.
Cuadra was convicted on the first-degree murder charge and sentenced to life in prison after a jury could not vote unanimously to impose the death penalty.
Kerekes pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge in December 2008 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Fannick, in his questioning of D’Andrea, quickly honed in on the amount of time spent preparing for trial, noting that the defense unsuccessfully sought an extension.
“Time did not play a factor in the preparation of this case,” D’Andrea said after repeated attempts by Fannick to ask what he and Walker would have done with the extra 120 days that were requested, maintaining that he would not have done anything differently, just that every case can benefit from as much research as possible.
“I know it’s a contention of your petition that we did not have enough time. We wanted more time, but it was not granted, so we just had to get it done,” said D’Andrea, who told Fannick that he worked eight-hour days on the case and put virtually all other work aside.
But it was the actual defense that sparked the most fireworks on Friday. Fannick wanted to know why D’Andrea and Walker did not use duress as a defense, given Cuadra’s contention that Kerekes was an abusive and controlling lover.
Duress, D’Andrea replied, is “an affirmative defense” for someone who is explaining why they committed a crime, not for someone trying to argue that they did not.
“I wanted the people in the jury box to believe Joe was the killer and Harlow wasn’t,” D’Andrea said.
Fannick also questioned D’Andrea about jailhouse conversations he had with Kerekes, in which D’Andrea said Kerekes confessed that he was the killer and said he would testify at Cuadra’s trial.
On the stand, however, Kerekes said he could offer no such confession, adding that it would be disappointing to his parents.
Pierantoni gave Fannick until Jan. 20 to file a supplemental brief, with the prosecution given a 10 days to respond after that.