For more than an hour Wednesday morning, the families of Cosmo DiNardo’s victims lashed out in anger at the 21-year-old Bucks County man who murdered four young men and buried their bodies on his family’s farm.
“It’s taking everything I have not to [expletive] kill you right now,” one mother cried out, before apologizing to Judge Jeffrey Finley for her language.
After listening to DiNardo’s curt apology during Wednesday’s hearing where he admitted the crimes, Finley described it as “false and insincere.” The judge noted that he listened to a recording of DiNardo’s confession to police in preparation for the hearing.
“To you, human lives are disposable, they have no value,” the judge told him. “I have no doubt in my mind that should the day ever come that you should find yourself released into the community and had an opportunity to kill again, you would do it.”
It was a fiery start to a hearing in Doylestown that ended with DiNardo’s pleading guilty and heading to prison for the rest of his life while his cousin and co-defendant, Sean Kratz, rejected a plea bargain, setting the stage for a trial that could pit cousin against cousin.
DiNardo pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and related crimes, including robbery and abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.
DiNardo’s attorneys said the plea was entered after two mental health experts examined DiNardo and concluded that they could not mount a mental health defense.
“He’s hoping that by accepting responsibility it begins to bring closure to everyone involved in this sad, senseless tragedy,” attorney Fortunato Perri said. “Mental illness is real, mental illness is sad, and sometimes it can lead to tragedy.”
The homicides last summer drew international attention to the region, with police frantically digging up the sprawling farm in Solebury Township as they searched for the four young men who went missing.
DiNardo, of Bensalem, and Kratz, of Philadelphia, both 21, were each charged with multiple counts of criminal homicide in the July 7 killings of Dean Finocchiaro, 19, Thomas Meo, 21, and Mark Sturgis, 22. DiNardo is also charged with killing 19-year-old Jimi Taro Patrick on July 5, authorities say.
DiNardo had his hearing first, and showed little emotion as he apologized.
“I just want the four families to know that I’m so sorry, and if I could take back what occurred on those days, I would,” he said.
Kratz, who appeared in court Wednesday afternoon, rejected a plea bargain that called for him to serve 59 to 118 years in prison for third-degree murder and related charges. The case will now go to trial.
The courtroom at the Bucks County Justice Center was filled, with the victims’ families taking up eight full rows. Some sobbed as First Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore read the details of the killings. Several covered their mouths and wiped away tears as Shore spoke.
Richard Patrick, the grandfather of Jimi Taro Patrick, talked about spending days at the farm in the sweltering heat, helplessly waiting for answers as helicopters hovered overhead.
“For days, we waited under a tent at that farm and waited for our child and hoped he would not be a victim,” Richard Patrick said during his victim impact statement.
Several family members of the four victims expressed horror at the condition of their loved ones’ bodies, which had been burned and buried in a mass grave, saying they still wanted to hug or touch their child.
Patrick also said he wished someone had stopped DiNardo, who had been acting erratically for years and was known to police.
“I am disappointed that he had access to guns and I am disappointed that law enforcement didn’t act when he was initally charged with possessing a gun,” Patrick said.
DiNardo also heard an impact statement from Mark Potash, the father of Sturgis, who said he didn’t think DiNardo was capable of understanding the families’ grief. Potash said he believed DiNardo pleaded guilty so facts wouldn’t come out that could be used against him in any of the several civil lawsuits that have been filed by victims’ families.
“Even you taking this plea is for selfish reasons,” Potash said. “You are a perfect example of someone who started at the top and worked your way down to the gutter.
“You think you’re savage?” Potash continued, referring to DiNardo’s boastful social media posts before the killing in which he posed with guns. “You’ve lived your whole life protected. In prison, you’ll meet savage. And I promise you, it won’t look like you.”
DiNardo’s family members sat on the other side of the courtroom. His mom wept quietly through much of the hearing.
Attorneys representing several of the victims’ family members released a statement about the guilty plea.
“The families of Dean A. Finocchiaro, Thomas C. Meo and Jimi T. Patrick, while grieving, have satisfaction in knowing that Cosmo DiNardo will be spending his life in jail for the mayhem and murder which he perpetrated on three innocent young men,” attorneys Thomas R. Kline, Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Carin A. O’Donnell said.
Prosecutors say DiNardo lured the four young men to the Solebury Township farm with the promise of selling them marijuana before shooting them to death, then burning their bodies and burying them with a backhoe.
After a five-day manhunt, investigators found three of the bodies in a mass grave, but were unable to locate Jimi Taro Patrick’s remains. DiNardo told them where Patrick was buried after his lawyer negotiated a deal with prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table.
A Bucks County detective testified at a prior hearing that DiNardo’s cousin, Kratz, admitted that he heard DiNardo shoot Finocchiaro and saw his body, and that he watched DiNardo shoot Sturgis and Meo.
Detective Martin McDonough said Kratz recounted seeing DiNardo run a backhoe over Meo to make sure he was dead. Kratz allegedly told the detective that he vomited after seeing the bodies.
After the shootings, Kratz told police he watched DiNardo move the bodies into a metal “pig cooker,” which DiNardo doused with gasoline and set on fire, according to court records. The cousins then went to a Philadelphia cheesesteak shop for dinner. The next afternoon, Kratz told police, the cousins returned to the farm and DiNardo buried the bodies with the backhoe, according to court records.
After the hearings, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub painted a dark picture of DiNardo’s acts.
“In my opinion, I think that the defendant, for whatever reason he had, he killed Jimi Patrick and he liked it,” Weintraub said. “[DiNardo] became a man-eater.”
Kratz’s attorneys, Craig Penglase and Niels Eriksen, declined to comment on their client’s decision to reject the plea deal. Kratz’s hearing was delayed nearly an hour Wednesday as the lawyers and the district attorney spoke to Kratz in a courthouse holding cell.
Lawyers on both sides of the case said earlier that they expected Kratz to accept the plea deal. Kratz did not testify during the brief hearing but answered “yes, sir” as Penglase questioned him in open court about his decision.
Families of the four victims were in the courtroom when the deal fell apart. They left without a word, walking behind a wall of deputy sheriffs who shielded them from news cameras.
Weintraub said he and the families were “disappointed” by Kratz’s decision, but that he remained resolute to get justice for “our boys.”
Kratz’s change of heart sets the stage for a trial in 2019. Weintraub said at a news conference following Wednesday’s hearings that DiNardo agreed to testify against Kratz. He also said prosecutors have Kratz’s confession on video, and it could be played at trial.
“We’ll see if we can get the death penalty against him,” Weintraub said.
While DiNardo has no chance of ever being paroled, Kratz would have been eligible for parole in 59 years. Since Kratz rejected the plea deal, it’s now off the table, Weintraub said.
“The only way that I could be moved to change my mind is if the families urged us to do so,” Weintraub said. “ … If it could spare them some of the anguish that they are going through right this minute, we would potentially consider it.”