After 18 hours of deliberation, a jury found Sean Kratz guilty of first-degree murder and other crimes on Friday in the grisly slayings of three young men on a Bucks County farm.
Kratz, 22, showed little emotion, hanging his head in silence as the verdict was read. The jury’s decision brings to a close the prosecution for a crime that gripped the region and beyond when the men went missing in the summer of 2017 and were later found dead.
Prosecutors, led by First Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore, have said they will seek the death penalty and will begin that phase of the trial in the coming days. Even if he’s spared that penalty, Kratz will face a mandatory sentence of life in prison because of the first-degree murder conviction.
Jurors found Kratz guilty of first- and second-degree murder in the death of Dean Finocchiaro and voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Thomas Meo and Mark Sturgis. Kratz was also convicted of abuse of corpse in all three deaths, as well as robbery and conspiracy to rob and kill Finocchiaro, possession of an instrument of a crime, and possession of a weapon.
The Northeast Philadelphia native made international headlines for his role in the seemingly senseless slayings of Finocchiaro, 22; Meo, 21; and Sturgis, 19, shot to death and buried in a makeshift grave on a farm in Solebury Township. They had been lured there, prosecutors said, by Kratz’s cousin Cosmo DiNardo on the promise of a marijuana sale, then robbed and killed.
The young men disappeared in a sweltering July week in 2017, triggering a days-long manhunt. As law enforcement officials searched for the missing men, their families kept a constant vigil at the farm until investigators discovered their bodies.
Detectives found the corpses soaked in gasoline and partially singed. After the shootings, DiNardo had unsuccessfully attempted to burn the bodies in a pig roaster, which he later buried with them in a 12-foot hole.
The prosecutors in the case, Shore and Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler, declined to comment after the verdict Friday, citing a gag order imposed by Judge Jeffrey L. Finley. Kratz’s attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., did the same.
The lawyers and the jurors will return to court Monday morning, when the penalty phase is expected to begin, with new evidence and witnesses. That is expected to last two or three days.
Families of the three victims said nothing as they left the courtroom Friday.
The killings, authorities said, were masterminded by DiNardo, an unstable college dropout and the son of a wealthy and politically connected family in Bensalem. DiNardo, 22, pleaded guilty last year and was spared the death penalty. He is serving four consecutive life sentences in state prison for the three killings he carried out with Kratz, along with that 19-year-old Jimi Patrick, whom he killed earlier.
Last year, Kratz confessed to shooting Finocchiaro and acting as a lookout while DiNardo killed the others. Initially, he was prepared to plead guilty to third-degree murder. But in a move that stunned many — including his then-attorney — Kratz rejected the plea deal at the last minute and triggered the jury trial that began last week.
Kratz surprised prosecutors again late Tuesday when he made the sudden decision to not take the stand in his own defense, despite promises by Peruto that he would do so.
In five days of testimony, jurors heard gruesome details of the slayings from the detectives who found the bodies. They heard prosecutors describe Kratz as a remorseless killer who joined his cousin in senseless violence and showed no regret. And they listened as Meo’s mother, Finocchiaro’s father, and Sturgis’ mother tearfully recounted their last moments with their sons and the heartache that followed.
The jurors also watched footage of the two video statements Kratz made to detectives. The first was rambling and shifting, as he misled investigators about his role in the killings. In the second, he provided what prosecutors say was the truth: That he accompanied DiNardo to the farm, carried a gun given to him by his cousin, and fired a shot into Finocchiaro’s head as his back was turned.
During the trial, Peruto portrayed Kratz as an unwilling participant in the crime. He blamed Kratz’s lack of intelligence and fear of DiNardo, who he said was acting like a “lunatic” and threatening to harm Kratz’s family if he didn’t help him carry out the murders.
That wasn’t enough to persuade the jurors to absolve Kratz.
Prosecutors told the jury that Kratz’s moves were deliberate and calculating. And he was so indifferent to the carnage that when he left the farm, they said, he joined his cousin for cheesesteaks bought with money taken from Finocchiaro.
Kratz helped DiNardo hide the murder weapon by burying it in an ivy-covered patch of his aunt’s backyard in Ambler, they said. And he kept quiet about the deaths long after leaving the farm.