The murder trial for 22-year-old Sean Kratz got underway in a packed courtroom at the Bucks County Justice Center Wednesday.
The trial for Kratz will feature prosecutors making the case that he played a key role in the summer 2017 killings of Dean Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown; Thomas Meo, 21, of Plumstead Township; and Mark Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg, Montgomery County. The defense will make the case that he went along with DiNardo, a cousin who he wasn’t close with, because he was threatened and scared of his relative. In addition, the defense will focus on the alleged failings of former court-appointed attorney Craig Penglase, who left the case after it came out he leaked a DiNardo confession tape of the media.
Last year, DiNardo, 22, of Bensalem, pleaded guilty to four life sentences for his role in the deaths of Jimi Patrick, 19, of Newtown Township, and the three other young men at his family’s farm in Solebury.
Attorney Charles Peruto Jr., who is representing Kratz, said during a dramatic opening statement that DiNardo would be testifying to the facts of the case during the trial.
“The evidence will show that all four would be dead without Sean Kratz … they were killed at the hands of a lunatic,” Peruto said, referring to DiNardo.
“Every second he spent with Cosmo DiNardo, he knew could be his last,” the attorney stated.
The high-profile defender told the jury that DiNardo “preyed” upon Sean Kratz, who he termed an “idiot” with a low IQ.
“Cosmo was the rich kid from Bensalem and New Hope; Sean Kratz was a kid from the intercity,” the attorney stated.
Before a courtroom filled with family and friends of the four deceased young men, the public, and media from around the region, Peruto called Kratz’s former attorney, Penglase, a “scumbag” and said he misled the accused killer while making a failed deal with prosecutors that would have sent him to state prison for 59 to 118 years. After 59 years, Kratz would have been eligible for parole.
Peruto said Penglase was pretty much working with law enforcement and not in Kratz’s interest. In a theatrical touch, Peruto sat between two detectives on the prosecution side and put his arms around them while making the statement.
Penglase is expected to testify during the trial.
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler told jurors Kratz and DiNardo had a plan to “lure” the three men and kill them at the farm that is a short distance from a popular tourist attraction Peddler’s Village.
“This was a day of killing. A day of murder,” the prosecutor said.
She laid out the case that the cousins set out to kill the three men, and DiNardo had told Kratz he killed Patrick prior.
At one point, Kohler got in front of Kratz and recreated possible cries for help that Meo could have made after being shot and paralyzed before DiNardo drove over him with a backhoe and crushed his head with the bucket.
Kohler said that Kratz never went for help and ended up getting cheesesteaks in Northeast Philadelphia with DiNardo after the murders.
“At no point does Sean go for help,” she said.
In the time after the murders, Kohler said Kratz followed the search for the four young men at DiNardo’s farm in the media before he was arrested.
In the time leading up to being charged in the deaths, Kratz also is accused of misleading his family and not telling detectives the truth, Kohler said.
During court, jurors were taken from the fourth-floor courtroom to the sheriff’s office sally port to view the ATVs that Kratz and DiNardo rode along with Finocchiaro before his murder. The public and media were not invited to review the evidence.
The prosecution called several members of law enforcement to testify to set up the facts of the case. They also explained to jurors the massive search for the four men and the following investigation while showing off maps and images of the large DiNardo farm property.
Philadelphia police K-9 Officer Richard Treston was among those who testified and set up the search through the use of two cadaver dogs, including his partner “Hank.” The dogs searched the massive property and hit on several spots that had evidence of human remains, including the gravel and boulder area that covered the spot where the pig roaster that held the bodies of Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis was buried after a failed attempt to burn them.
Bucks County Detectives Deputy Chief Mike Mosiniak laid out the property on the stand and said the three men’s bodies in the pig roaster were buried in a 14-foot ditch dug off a stone pathway and a cornfield.
A large blood stain and splatter from Finocchiaro’s murder was discovered by Quakertown Borough Detective Matthew Molchan in barn on the farm. A further review found bullet fragments and blood that dropped into the basement of the barn, the veteran lawman testified.
Near a coal chute, Molchan found Finocchiaro’s cell phone that was partly obscured by a piece of wood. When turned on, the phone filled with text messages of concern for the young man from friends and family.
Wednesday’s testimony closed out with veteran FBI Special Agent Mike Byrnes, who leads the Philadelphia Field Office’s evidence recovery team. Byrnes and dozens of his teammates assisted local and state police as they worked the massive crime scene.
Byrnes explained how law enforcement meticulously dug out a 14-foot-deep pit where the bodies were eventually recovered.
In addition, he noted a heavy stone that had “At Rest” engraved was placed at the burial before law enforcement arrived.
Evidence displayed in open court were mainly photos. Some images showed the murder weapons, blood stains, the pit where the three bodies were buried, and the remains of Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis.
Patrick’s body was found after the remains of Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis on a distant portion of the Solebury farm. Patrick’s body was located with assistance from DiNardo.
Kratz, who wore a suit, was quiet in court and talked briefly with friends and family who sat behind him. Tattoos on either side of his ears appeared to be covered with makeup.
The defense team made an effort to sequester the jury for the length of the trial due to ongoing media coverage. Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Finley denied the request and said jurors had been ordered not to follow coverage on the case.
Kratz could face the death penalty if convicted.