Two cousins charged with the killings this summer of four Pennsylvania men pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple counts of homicide and other charges, according to Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore, who is prosecuting the cases.
Cosmo Dinardo and Sean Kratz, both 20 at the time of the killings, were charged in July with multiple counts of homicide, among other charges, after the bodies of four young men who had gone missing were found mutilated and buried on the Dinardo family’s land.
The crimes shocked Bucks County, a pastoral community about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.
Thursday’s hearing came a day after prosecutors filed notices that said the state would reserve the right to pursue the death penalty against the defendants.
The filings appeared to go against a plea deal District Attorney Matthew Weintraub made with Dinardo in exchange for his confession.
But speaking to reporters after the arraignment, Weintraub said the filing was a legal formality, and did not necessarily signify his office’s intent to seek the death penalty.
“We’re the district attorney’s office,” he said. “We honor our agreements.”
Entering a not guilty plea at an arraignment is a standard procedural action, and Dinardo’s doing so at the arraignment Thursday does not necessarily call into question the defense’s intention to take the plea deal, Shore said. “In my two decades as a lawyer, 99.9% of the time defendants enter a not guilty plea at an arraignment,” he said.
Prosecutors expect Dinardo to enter a guilty plea at a later date, at which point prosecutors would seek four consecutive life terms in prison, Shore said.
But if Dinardo ultimately pleads not guilty, “We will be prepared and at that time we will seek the death penalty,” Weintraub said.
“We are continuing to review the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as all evidence of mitigation,” Dinardo’s attorney, Fortunato Perri, said after the arraignment, adding that a decision will be made “at the appropriate time” regarding whether Dinardo will go to trial.
Kratz’s attorney, Neils Eriksen, said the move to seek a capital punishment in his client’s case “disappointed and confused” him.
“Dinardo is the admitted killer,” Eriksen said. “We look forward to challenging the evidence and the aggravators at the appropriate time.”
Dinardo soon after his arrest confessed to his and Kratz’s involvement in the killings and provided police with the details, according to a criminal complaint. Kratz told detectives he was present for three of the four killings but did not confess to killing any of the men himself.
In exchange for Dinardo’s confession, Weintraub agreed not to pursue the death penalty against him, an attorney for Dinardo said at the time.
Victims lured by drugs, prosecutor said
All the victims had been lured to the Dinardo property within days of each other, believing they were on their way to buy marijuana from Dinardo, Weintraub said in July. Instead, he said, they were killed.
The victims were Jimi Patrick and Dean Finocchiaro, both 19, Thomas Meo, 21, and Mark Sturgis, 22.
Dinardo has a history of mental illness, having struggled in the past with schizophrenia, Weintraub said in July.
Police also had frequent run-ins with Dinardo, who was arrested in February and charged with possession of a firearm, an alleged crime because Dinardo had a mental illness and had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, according to court documents. That charge was dismissed in May.