DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Two cousins accused of killing together could find themselves pitted against one another in court after one took a plea deal Wednesday and the other rejected one in the gruesome deaths of four young men found buried last summer on a suburban Philadelphia farm.
Prosecutors vowed to seek the death penalty against Sean Kratz after the 21-year-old stunned prosecutors, victims’ families and even his own lawyer in turning down an offer that would have put him in prison for at least 59 years.
“Unexpected outcome,” said Kratz’s lawyer, Craig Penglase.
Cosmo DiNardo, 21, the cousin who earlier in the day pleaded guilty to four counts of murder in exchange for a life sentence, could be forced to testify at Kratz’s trial, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said.
No trial date has been set.
DiNardo’s plea was all but certain after he confessed last summer and agreed to help authorities find the body of 19-year-old Jimi Taro Patrick, who was a student at Loyola University Maryland, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
Authorities saw DiNardo, a mentally disturbed son of privilege, as the mastermind of the plot that involved luring the men to his family’s farm, ambushing and killing them, burning their bodies and crushing one with a backhoe before burying them.
Kratz was charged in three of the deaths but would have pleaded guilty to murder and conspiracy charges against one victim, 19-year-old Dean Finocchiaro.
DiNardo’s plea gave solace to a grieving father who turned to the stone-faced killer and told him: “Your only way out of prison is wearing a toe tag.”
“That’s the least we all deserve,” said Mark Potash, the father of 22-year-old victim, Mark Sturgis.
Melissa Fratanduono, the mother of 21-year-old victim Tom Meo, cursed at DiNardo, saying it has “taken everything” for her not to kill him herself.
DiNardo has a history of mental illness, including an involuntary commitment and a schizophrenia diagnosis, but his lawyer said mental health professionals weren’t sure they could have presented an insanity defense.
“Mental illness is real, mental illness is sad, and sometimes it can be tragic,” lawyer Fortunato Perri said.
DiNardo, the scion of a wealthy family, dabbled in dealing marijuana and customizing sneakers and portrayed himself on social media as “a savage.”
He showed himself holding guns and would send aggressive messages to women he found attractive. Authorities saw him as the mastermind of the killings.
Potash called DiNardo a “perfect example of someone who started at the top and worked your way down to the gutter.”
“You think you’re savage?” Potash said. “You’ve lived your whole life protected. In prison, you’ll meet savage. And I promise you, it won’t look like you.”
Police found the men after a five-day search. Sturgis, Meo and Finocchiaro were lit on fire and placed 12-feet (3-meters) deep in an oil tank converted into a cooker DiNardo called the “pig roaster.”
Patrick’s grandparents, who raised him since birth, asked DiNardo to pray for them and for his mother, who they say is mentally ill, so that someday they might be able to forgive him.
“My heart is broken, and I will never, ever be the same,” Sharon Patrick said.
DiNardo was expressionless as he pleaded guilty to charges including first-degree murder, conspiracy, robbery and abuse of a corpse.
“If there is anything I could do to take it back, I would,” said DiNardo. “I cannot come to terms with what occurred. I’m so sorry.”
Judge Jeffrey Finley dismissed that as “false and insincere.”
“To you, human lives are disposable,” Finley told DiNardo. “They have no value.”
The families of the slain men are suing DiNardo’s parents, Antonio and Sandra DiNardo, who own the Solebury farm property and construction and concrete companies in Bensalem, where they live.
The families say DiNardo’s parents shouldn’t have allowed him access to a gun, which was barred by law due to his commitment.
In his confession, DiNardo acknowledged selling handguns to local residents. Five months before the killings, police charged him with having a shotgun. Investigators say he used at least two guns in the killings.
“My family received a life sentence,” Dean Finocchiaro’s father, Anthony, told DiNardo. “I pray that Dean’s spirit haunts you the rest of your miserable life.”