Two years after four young men died in gruesome murders on a Bucks County farm, a jury will be asked to weigh the fate of the man prosecutors say killed three of them.
Sean Kratz of Northeast Philadelphia is to go on trial this week in one of the most notorious crimes in the county’s history.
The 22-year-old appeared Monday in the Doylestown courtroom of Judge Jeffrey L. Finley for a hearing that cleared the way for trial after a long, contentious legal saga. Within days, he could be on the witness stand.
Kratz stunned prosecutors and his own defense team in May 2018 when he made a last-minute about-face and refused a plea deal.
Kratz is charged with three counts of criminal homicide as well as robbery, conspiracy, and abuse of corpse in the deaths of Dean Finocchiaro, 19; Thomas Meo, 21; and Mark Sturgis, 22. Prosecutors say Kratz and his cousin Cosmo DiNardo shot the three and attempted to burn their corpses in a pig roaster.
If convicted, Kratz could face the death penalty. Prosecutors indicated months ago that they would seek that punishment.
Jurors were selected in September and opening statements are expected Wednesday morning. The trial is likely to last two weeks.
Kratz’s attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., argued Monday that Kratz’s previous counsel, Craig Penglase, acted as an “agent of the state” and against Kratz’s interests when he persuaded him to confess to the murders while he was “not of clear mind.”
At the hearing, Kratz seemed alert and involved with his defense. Peruto said he was planning to call Kratz to testify. “It’s the only shot we have in this case,” Peruto said.
Prosecutors, led by First Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore, pushed back, saying presenting evidence and testimony about Kratz’s aborted plea deal would be prejudicial and would only serve to confuse jurors.
In July 2017, DiNardo lured Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis to his family’s 90-acre farm in Solebury Township on the premise of selling them marijuana. DiNardo, a college dropout with a reputation for acting recklessly, has a documented history of mental health issues.
Prosecutors say the offer was a ruse. At the farm, DiNardo and Kratz opened fire on the men and ran over Meo with a backhoe, according to investigators. They tried to burn the bodies and ultimately buried all three in a 12½-foot hole.
The body of a fourth victim, 19-year-old Jimi Patrick, was discovered in a shallow grave on the property. Investigators determined DiNardo had killed him days earlier.
DiNardo later confessed to the killings and identified his cousin as his accomplice.
DiNardo, 22, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty last year. He is serving four consecutive life sentences at State Correctional Institution Retreat, a medium-security facility in the northeastern corner of the state.
The proceedings have been complicated by factors outside of the courtroom: Penglase admitted leaking to reporters recordings of confessions both suspects made to police.
On the tapes, according to a report by NBC10, Kratz told investigators he killed Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis out of fear that DiNardo would hurt him or his family. Penglase leaked the tapes just hours after Kratz’s surprise rejection of his plea deal. He was removed from the case shortly after.
Earlier this year, Peruto argued unsuccessfully to have the tapes suppressed at trial.