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Death penalty decision may force DA’s office to distinguish Bryan Kocis killer

WILKES-BARRE,Pa — Luzerne County prosecutors may have to place the murder weapon in the hand of one of two Virginia Beach men they say committed the cold-blooded murder of Bryan Kocis.

Harlow Raymond Cuadra and Joseph Manuel Kerekes are charged with conspiring to kill Kocis — their rival in the gay pornography business — then torching his Dallas Township home to destroy evidence. Kocis’ body was found in January on a couch in his Midland Drive home, but prosecutors have not identified who they believe slashed and stabbed the 44-year-old.

Luzerne County District Attorney David Lupas’ decision to seek the death penalty against both Cuadra, 26, and Kerekes, 33, could force his office to distinguish who is the killer, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. hinted during a status conference in the case last week.

Rulings in previous cases suggest prosecutors can seek the death penalty against the principal of a murder, not an accomplice.

Evidence, including wire tapped conversations, suggest both Cuadra and Kerekes may have stabbed Kocis, argued Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick.

“The only two people who know what happened in that room of that home are Mr. Kerekes and Mr. Cuadra,” Melnick said.

The issue arose after Kerekes’ attorneys Mark Bufalino, Shelley Centini and John Pike filed a motion to compel prosecutors to outline their theory of the crime, specifically if their client is the alleged attacker or accomplice. Lawyers for both sides will have to file additional briefs on the issue, which will be discussed Jan. 30 — the next status conference in the case.

Other issues discussed include:

Olszewski heard arguments about whether the Luzerne County public defender’s office should continue to represent Cuadra. First Assistant Public Defender Al Flora Jr. represented Kocis on a previous matter in 2001 and also represents his family in estate matters. Cuadra’s attorney Bill Ruzzo said Flora’s expected testimony could force him to challenge the credibility of his boss.

The district attorney’s office is asking for conflict counsel to replace the public defenders’ office because a similar issue almost caused a mistrial in the William Rohland death penalty case earlier this year.

Olszewski is concerned new counsel could delay the case further. The judge plans to rule on the issue in the future.

Ruzzo is also asking for Cuadra to be transferred from the Lackawanna County prison to Luzerne County Correctional Facility, where Kerekes is being held. Cuadra’s confinement status is making it more difficult to prepare his defense, Ruzzo said.

Olszewski wants the district attorney’s office to explain what legal standing it has to determine where Cuadra should be jailed. Melnick argued Cuadra and Kerekes should be kept at separate facilities in the interest of justice. Olszewski wants both Melnick and Ruzzo to argue their position in briefs.

Due to almost 5,000 pages of discovery information in the case, Olszewski extended the deadline for pre-trial motions in the case until Jan. 31.

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