Defendant testifies in porn murder trial

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Testimony in the murder trial of Harlow Cuadra, who is accused of killing Bryan Kocis, a rival in the gay-porn industry, wrapped up this week after Cuadra testified on his own behalf.

Cuadra, 27, took the stand in his own defense March 10, against the advice of his attorneys, and testified that his former partner, Joseph Kerekes, committed the murder by himself. Kerekes, who pleaded guilty to the crime in December and is serving a life sentence, took the stand earlier that morning but refused to testify on Cuadra’s behalf.

Attorneys delivered closing arguments March 11, and the case is now in the hands of the jury.

Cuadra was the only witness for the defense.

Cuadra and Kerekes, 35, were arrested in May 2007 and accused of stabbing Kocis, owner of gay-porn company Cobra Video, nearly 30 times and setting his Dallas Township home on fire Jan. 24 of that year.

Prosecutors alleged that both men plotted to kill Kocis to obtain the rights to work with porn star Sean Lockhart, who was locked in a legal battle with Kocis, for whom he’d worked for several years.

During his testimony and cross-examination, which carried over into March 11, Cuadra alleged that Kerekes dropped him off at Kocis’ home the night of the murder to discuss Cuadra acting in films for Kocis, which Cuadra said was Kerekes’ idea.

Cuadra said that after about 20 minutes, there was a “rapid knock” on the door and Kerekes entered the house and began punching Kocis.

“I’m shouting at Joe, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’” Cuadra testified. “He pushed me down.”

Cuadra said he tried to jump on Kerekes’ back to stop him, but Kerekes pulled a knife out of his pocket and slashed Kocis’ throat.

Cuadra said he ran and hid in the back seat of the car that the pair had rented, while Kerekes did “something” inside the house.

He said Kerekes returned to the car about 15 minutes later with two laptops, several computer towers and other stolen items, and disposed of one laptop and some papers at a service station.

Cuadra said he did not see Kerekes start the fire.

Cuadra testified he wanted to go to police when they identified him as a person of interest in the case, but that he was afraid of Kerekes.

“Joseph wouldn’t let me,” he said. “I can’t even go to the store to buy toilet paper without him.”

Cuadra said they stayed in numerous hotels in Virginia Beach, Va., after the murder and fled their home in the town for Florida after learning that police raided their house.

“Joseph started feeling really paranoid and rightly so,” Cuadra said. “I think it was beginning to dawn on him that he made his last mistake.”

Cuadra broke down several times throughout his testimony and apologized to his mother, who was in the courtroom. He also detailed sexual abuse he faced from his stepfather while growing up and the difficulties he had coming out to his family.

Cuadra’s account of the murder differed from what a prosecution witness testified to earlier this week.

On Monday, Dallas Township Police Sgt. Doug Higgins said that during questioning after his May 15 arrest, Cuadra denied Kerekes’ involvement in the murder.

“He blurted out, ‘Joe didn’t do it,’” Higgins said. “The last thing he said was, ‘Joe didn’t do it.’”

Cuadra’s attorneys filed paperwork last week to transfer Kerekes from the correctional facility at Camp Hill to the Luzerne County Courthouse to testify for the defense.

Although Kerekes took the stand, he only answered several brief questions before saying he wouldn’t talk about the murder.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents,” Kerekes said on the stand. “I think it will destroy them to say something that I didn’t do.”

Kerekes addressed Cuadra attorney Joseph D’Andrea and said, “What I told you is untrue,” before he stepped down from the stand and was escorted from the courtroom.

It was unclear what Kerekes was referring to.

As Kerekes was led out, Cuadra’s mother shouted, “You stole my son” at him.

Throughout the trial, Cuadra’s attorneys suggested that either Kerekes or Lockhart and his romantic and business partner Grant Roy were responsible for Kocis’ death.

Lockhart and other porn actors testified throughout the trial that Cuadra and Kerekes thought they could make $1 million from signing Lockhart.

The prosecution called 86 witnesses over the course of 10 days, resting its case March 9.

Last week, a state police computer expert testified that Kocis received a series of e-mails sent from Cuadra’s computer, setting up a meeting the night of the murder. The e-mails were sent under the name Danny Moilin, who purported to be an aspiring porn actor and who attached a picture of himself, which matches Cuadra.

Cuadra testified this week that Kerekes sent the photos and model application.

Prosecutors also showed the jury surveillance video of the pair purchasing a knife and handgun at a pawn shop in Virginia Beach the day before the murder. An employee of the store testified in court and identified both men.

Prosecutors called numerous forensic witnesses to lay the foundation that Cuadra was involved in the arson, as well as the theft of several items from Kocis’ house; the death penalty can only be sought if the prosecution can prove that Cuadra committed other felonies during the murder.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].