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The Bryan Kocis Murder Trial: Harlow Cuadra Melodrama, Pleas from Mom End with Cliff Hanger

[Times leader]- Friday’s sentencing hearing to determine if Harlow Cuadra gets death or life in prison proved part cliche and part melodrama. After testimony that careened close to soap opera, it seemed appropriate to end with a cliff hanger. Tune in Monday!

There was the Lackawanna prison chaplain in black cloth and white Roman collar recounting the convicted killer’s transformation behind bars. Cuadra would attend Mass in jail, offer to give the readings in Spanish, and even recruited others to continue doing so after he leaves.

“Harlow has grown a great deal since he’s been in prison,” the chaplain said. “He’s dependable, responsible, and very, very respectful to everyone.”

Well, yeah, the skeptic may think, but he’s a boyish homosexual in lock-up. These sound like survival tactics.

There was the gay wanna-be lover who met Cuadra first as his paid “escort,” befriended him as they shared a love of cheesecakes, and then drove 4-1/2 hours one way just to spend an hour or two with the imprisoned Cuadra, bringing Harry Potter books and giving him money to buy things.

Harlow wove him a small cloth cross the man now wears around his neck. “This really means a lot to me,” he said. “I had lost my faith. Through him I got it back.” Was he infatuated with Harlow? The answer was no, but the skeptic notes that the infatuated never recognize their condition.

Cuadra’s half-sister offered testimony that sounded contradictory. His half-brother’s short stint on the stand seemed irrelevant, even though he had been the first sibling to find Harlow after years of separation, thanks to a search of the social-networking Web site MySpace.com.

Watch for the next big reality show: Siblings reunited through MySpace (or Facebook, or whatever site proves willing to go along with the scheme).

It was, of course, Harlow’s Mother Gladis who dominated the day. An immigrant from Honduras, she spoke through a translator, and the anti-immigration faction surely would argue that’s the problem: In America at least two decades and can’t plead for her son in English.

But a son is a son in any language, and when she cried, he cried. The defense attorney made her read a letter from Harlow’s stepfather in which the man wrote of Harlow’s “private parts.” The mother and son sobbed. She claimed she once found her husband fondling her sleeping son. “How can he do such a thing?” She sobbed.

How indeed? Yet the skeptic wonders – as Harlow himself did, if the mitigation expert who interviewed him is to be believed – how could the mother not know such molestation occurred for nearly a decade in her house?

That mitigation expert offered her own theory (after Harlow’s mother had left the room). Coming from a broken family and recurring hardship, Gladis had “an idealized image of romance,” as she went from one failed relationship to another “looking for a father” for her children.

The jury looked either unmoved or inscrutable. On Monday they will meet with the terrible weight of a death sentence in their hands.

It’s a decision Harlow’s mother claims she had already made once, refusing to have the abortion his father demanded. She used that fact in her final, passionate plea to the jury.

“Before he was born I fought for his life, and now I continue fighting so he can keep on living. It’s the only thing I can say to you. With my last drop of blood, I’ll keep on fighting.”

In a day of stereotypes, confusion and high drama, that note rang truest.

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