Will a jury be able to hear Cosmo DiNardo’s alleged co-conspirator, Sean Kratz, describe how the pair killed three young men?

That question was at the center of pretrial hearings on Monday and Tuesday, proceedings that are expected to be the last before Kratz’s trial. Bucks County Court Judge Jeffrey L. Finley will decide whether to allow the statement in the coming weeks.

Kratz, 22, of Northeast Philadelphia, is charged with first-degree murder and related crimes in the grisly case that brought national attention to Bucks County in July 2017. Prosecutors say Kratz helped DiNardo kill and bury three of his four victims on the DiNardo family’s Solebury Township farm.

(L-R) Four photos of Jimi Patrick, Tom Meo, Dean Finocchiaro, and Mark Sturgis are placed in a kitchen cabinet window in the home of the Patricks, nearing the anniversary of the July 2017 murders of the four young men in Bucks County.
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
(L-R) Four photos of Jimi Patrick, Tom Meo, Dean Finocchiaro, and Mark Sturgis are placed in a kitchen cabinet window in the home of the Patricks, nearing the anniversary of the July 2017 murders of the four young men in Bucks County.

Kratz balked at a plea deal last spring, the same day DiNardo accepted one and was sentenced to life in prison.

Kratz’s attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., who was retained this fall, said his client didn’t fully understand the conditions of the deal — which came with a 59- to 118-year prison sentence for third-degree murder and other charges, and required him to tell authorities what happened.

Sean Kratz's attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. arrives for pretrial hearings for Bucks County killer Cosmo DiNardo's alleged coconspirator and cousin.
Cain Images
Sean Kratz's attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. arrives for pretrial hearings for Bucks County killer Cosmo DiNardo's alleged coconspirator and cousin.

Peruto contended that a jury should not be allowed to hear what Kratz told investigators as part of a deal he didn’t fully comprehend.

“He has to be told, ‘It could be used against you even if you don’t reach a deal,’” Peruto said.

Prosecutors argued that jurors should be able to hear Kratz’s confession.

In order to determine Kratz’s understanding of the deal, they attempted to call his former attorney, Craig Penglase, who was removed from the case last year after leaking tapes of the confessions of Kratz and DiNardo. But Finley would not allow that because of an ongoing disciplinary board investigation into Penglase’s conduct.

Instead, the judge suggested that prosecutors subpoena Kratz’s mother, Vanessa Amodei, who was present during a discussion about the plea deal with her son and members of his defense team in April of last year.

On the stand, Amodei said Penglase misled her and her son by saying Kratz’s statement to authorities could not be used in court if the plea agreement fell apart.

Sean Kratz
Bucks County District Attorney's Office
Sean Kratz

"Making a statement could help him accomplish a deal,” Amodei said the lawyer told her, but her understanding was that “the statement couldn’t hurt him.”

First Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore pointed out inconsistencies in Amodei’s accounts. He said she had told prosecutors on Monday that she didn’t remember what happened at that April 2018 meeting. Between then and Tuesday morning, her recollection changed, he said, and that happened after she spoke with her son and his attorneys.

“I’m not a liar,” she said, “and I’m not here to lie about anything.”

In a yellow prison jumpsuit and orange coat, Kratz looked at his mother as he was walked into the courtroom in shackles. She teared up.

Kratz’s confession tapes have been the source of much drama over the past year. After Kratz turned down the plea deal in May, former attorney Penglase admitted to leaking the recordings of DiNardo and Kratz, and parts of them were aired on NBC10 and later Fox29.

Craig Penglase, center, then-defense attorney for Sean Kratz, spoke quickly to the media after his client unexpectedly decided not to take the plea deal at the Bucks County Justice Center last May.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Craig Penglase, center, then-defense attorney for Sean Kratz, spoke quickly to the media after his client unexpectedly decided not to take the plea deal at the Bucks County Justice Center last May.

Kratz’s trial was originally scheduled to start this week. A new trial date has not been set.

Nearly two years ago, authorities descended on the DiNardo farm, searched for days in rain and summer heat, and eventually found the remains of four missing men — Jimi Patrick, 19, of Newtown Township; Dean Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown Township; Thomas Meo, 21, of Plumstead Township; and Mark Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg.

DiNardo, now 22, of Bensalem, said he lured the men to the farm by telling them he had marijuana to sell, then shot and killed them. He ran over one with a backhoe and tried to burn three of the bodies before burying all four on the 90-acre property.

Investigators at the DiNardo family farm in Solebury, gathering evidence on disappearance of four Bucks County men.
CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Investigators at the DiNardo family farm in Solebury, gathering evidence on disappearance of four Bucks County men.

He said he killed Patrick on his own, but Kratz helped in the murders of Finocchiaro, Meo, and Sturgis.

While Finley has yet to rule on several issues, including the confession tape, he denied a defense request to have the case heard by an out-of-town jury. If it proves to be too difficult to select an unbiased jury of Bucks County residents, he said, he will reassess that decision.

A gag order bars prosecutors and defense attorneys from speaking publicly about the case outside of court.