Sean Kratz, who is charged with helping Cosmo DiNardo kill and bury three young men on a Bucks County farm in 2017, has retained A. Charles Peruto Jr., the criminal defense attorney who has represented some of Philadelphia's most notorious defendants.
The move, made official at a hearing on Monday in Doylestown, is the latest of several developments involving Kratz and his legal team and will further delay a case that was expected to go to trial early next year. In May, Kratz, 21, of Philadelphia, rejected a plea deal at the last minute, and soon after, attorney Craig Penglase was removed from the case after he admitted leaking tapes of DiNardo's and Kratz's confessions.
On Monday, prosecutors expressed dismay at Kratz's decision to retain Peruto just days before Kratz was scheduled to be in court for pre-trial hearings represented by a court-appointed lawyer.
"This is gamesmanship," said First Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore. But "from our perspective, this will only strengthen our resolve against Mr. Kratz."
The families of DiNardo's victims filled three rows behind the prosecutors. With tears in their eyes and looks of anguish on their faces, some relatives shook their heads upon hearing that the case would be delayed once again.
"I'm not happy to be in the position in which I'm placed, but the individual has the right to a counsel of his choice," said Bucks County Court Judge Jeffrey L. Finley. "I believe everyone feels as we move forward in this trial, we have to do it right."
Finley granted Kratz's request that Keith Williams, the Doylestown attorney who had been appointed in May to represent Kratz, be discharged and Peruto take his place.
Mark Potash, father of victim Mark Sturgis, said he was frustrated by the decision and felt "tortured" by delay after delay in this case.
"I can't even believe this is our system," Potash said. "It just keeps stirring everything back up. . . . It's almost too hard to describe."
Williams, who estimated he had spent hundreds of hours working on Kratz's defense, said he learned of the change Friday afternoon in an email from Peruto's office.
"I believe I had a good working relationship with Mr. Kratz. I was surprised by this move," Williams said. "We were ready to move forward."
Williams declined comment when asked whether he thought Kratz's decision was a mistake. "I wish Peruto the best of luck," he said.
Wearing a yellow prison jumpsuit and appearing heavier than in the past, Kratz stood and asked to address the judge before the hearing concluded.
"Previously, when I was offered a third-degree murder charge . . . ," Kratz began, adding in a muffled voice that he had been promised a certain sentence. The judge cut him off and advised he talk with Peruto before continuing.
After huddling with Kratz, Peruto stood and said, "I think it is wise my client not speak."
Kratz, DiNardo's cousin, is charged with the murders of three of DiNardo's victims — Dean Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown Township; Thomas Meo, 21, of Plumstead Township; and Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg.
DiNardo, 21, of Bensalem, pleaded guilty in May to killing Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis, along with his first victim, Jimi Patrick, 19, of Newtown. After DiNardo pleaded guilty, and Kratz balked at his chance at a plea deal, prosecutors said they may call DiNardo to testify against his cousin.
DiNardo was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences. He was spared the death penalty in exchange for upholding his end of a deal struck when he confessed to the murders back in July 2017. Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty if DiNardo led them to Patrick's body.
He told authorities he lured each of the four young men to his family's sprawling Solebury property over the course of three days. DiNardo, who had a history of mental illness and a long list of previous encounters with police, told his victims he had marijuana to sell. Once he got them on the property, he shot and killed them, running one over with a backhoe and trying unsuccessfully to burn three of the bodies in a converted oil tank before burying them on the farm.
A gag order bars prosecutors and Kratz's current attorneys from expounding on what happened in court Monday. The pretrial hearings will be continued on a later date to allow for Peruto to get up to speed on the case and ensure he has necessary certification to represent a client in a capital case.
Niels Eriksen, a defense attorney based in Langhorne, will remain on Kratz's legal team, with the intention of representing him during the penalty phase.