A newly appointed attorney for accused Cosmo DiNardo coconspirator Sean Kratz vowed Wednesday to look into the puzzling decision by Kratz's former lawyer to release tapes of his client admitting his role in the murders of four young men on a Bucks County farm last summer.
Hours before the release of the tapes, Kratz rejected a plea deal that would have spared him the death penalty. Prosecutors have said they now plan to use the confession tapes against Kratz and may call DiNardo, his cousin, to testify against him.
Kratz's legal team said it would argue that the recordings, which were leaked by former Kratz defense attorney Craig Penglase, should be inadmissible at trial, a date for which has not been set. The release of the tapes could also taint potential jurors, the attorneys said, but they added that it was too soon to say whether they might request an out-of-town jury.
"The release and publication of the Cosmo DiNardo and Sean Kratz audio files are obviously something that should not have happened," Keith Williams said after a brief hearing in Bucks County Court on Wednesday. "This action has further traumatized the victims' families, impugned the reputation of the District Attorney's Office, and compromised the defense of Sean Kratz."
Penglase admitted Tuesday to leaking the tapes, excerpts of which were aired last week, first on NBC10 and later on FOX29. The stations aired portions of the tapes just hours after DiNardo pleaded guilty to the four murders and Kratz, in a surprise move, backed out of his own chance at a deal.
At Wednesday's hearing, Kratz, 21, of Philadelphia told the judge he talked with Penglase late last week and said he understood that a "conflict of interest" required the attorney to be removed from his case. The hearing lasted only a few minutes. Kratz, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, answered the judge's questions politely and showed little emotion.
Legs and arms crossed, Penglase sat quietly behind Kratz in the front row of the small courtroom.
Over the last week, Penglase has not responded to calls and text messages seeking comment. Leaving court with fellow attorneys Wednesday, he only shook his head as a reporter asked him questions. The motive for his release of the incriminating tapes is unclear.
In a letter to Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub released Tuesday, Penglase wrote: "It has come to my understanding that a question has been raised concerning who made public the audio interviews of Cosmo DiNardo and Sean Kratz. Please allow this letter to confirm that I am the individual who made those recordings public."
The Bucks County District Attorney's Office said in a statement that it released Penglase's letter in response to suspicion that prosecutors were the source of the leak. It has said the tapes will not be made public while the case is ongoing.
A day before the letter was released, Penglase asked the judge to take him off the case, citing an undisclosed conflict of interest.
Cocounsel Niels Eriksen Jr., who will continue to represent Kratz, said he had been unaware that Penglase had released the tapes.
By day's end Wednesday, a gag order had been issued, barring prosecutors and defense attorneys from talking to the media until the case's conclusion.
The leak marked the latest twist in a gruesome case that has garnered national attention for nearly a year. It began when Jimi Patrick, 19, of Newtown Township; Dean Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown Township; Thomas Meo, 21, of Plumstead Township; and Mark Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg, went missing last July, After a multiday search, their bodies were found on the DiNardo family's 90-acre Solebury Township farm property.
The remains of Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis were discovered in a 12½-foot hole. When DiNardo, 21, of Bensalem, confessed to the killings, he agreed to direct investigators to Patrick's body, which was buried in a shallow grave elsewhere on the property. In exchange for his confession, prosecutors agreed to spare DiNardo the death penalty.
DiNardo, who was known to local police and had made troubling comments on social media before the killings, told authorities he lured the men to the farm by telling them he had marijuana to sell. Once he got them there, he shot and killed them. He ran over Meo with a backhoe, and attempted to burn the bodies of Meo, Finocchiaro, and Sturgis in a converted oil tank that he referred to as the "pig roaster."
In keeping with his end of the deal, DiNardo pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced to four consecutive life terms in state prison. During that hearing, relatives of the victims shared their pain and anger in emotional victim-impact statements.
The deal Kratz turned down last week would have come with a 59- to 118-year prison sentence.
Sean Kratz's defense attorneys Craig Penglase (left) and Niels Eriksen stepped outside Courtroom 410 at the Bucks County Courthouse prior to their client's preliminary hearing in September.