The pot dealer who confessed to the gruesome murder of four young men on a Bucks County farm last summer pleaded guilty Wednesday in a Doylestown courtroom. Under the plea agreement, Cosmo DiNardo, 21, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the quadruple murder that rattled a bucolic community north of Philadelphia.
Later in the afternoon, however, DiNardo’s accomplice shocked the courtroom when he told the judge he had changed his mind on a plea he had previously accepted. Under that deal, Sean Kratz would have gone to prison for a minimum of 59 years. With that deal ripped up, Kratz, 21, will now move to trial in the slaying of three of the four men.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said he was “whipsawed” when the plea bargain collapsed at the last minute. Prosecutors said they will now seek the death penalty for Kratz.
“As long as it’s on the books, and the die is cast in this case, we’re going for it,” Weintraub said.
Earlier in the day, before reading the punishment for DiNardo, Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Finley said his actions showed a “total lack of humanity” and “a total disregard for the value of human life.”
‘A heart so hardened’
DiNardo, 21, wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackled, told the court his lawyers concluded they could not mount an insanity defense following a mental health evaluation.
Finley told DiNardo, “You’re agreeing to the intentional killing of these four individuals. You understand that?”
“Yes,” DiNardo said.
Finley told DiNardo that by pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree murder, in addition to counts of robbery, conspiracy, and abuse of corpse, DiNardo will be given four consecutive terms of life in prison.
In a brief statement to the court before sheriff’s deputies took him back into custody, DiNardo said he regretted his actions.
“I want the families to know I’m so sorry,” DiNardo told the judge. “If there is anything I could do to take it back, I would. I cannot come to terms with what occured. I’m so sorry.”
Finley called DiNardo’s apology “false and incinere,” saying he “shattered” the families of four young men.
The judge said he listened again to DiNardo’s taped confession before Wednesday’s hearing, and he said one thing jumped out to him.
“The tone of your voice,” Finley said. “As such a total and complete disregard to the value of human life, to these four young individual lives, speaking with no emotion, no sense of remorse or regret. With such a heart so hardened.”
Fred Perri, lawyer for DiNardo, called the incident a “sad, senseless tragedy.”
“As we can see here through this situation, mental illness is real,” Perri said. “Mental illness is sad and sometimes it can be tragic like it is here.”
‘Why did this happen?”
Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore told the court how DiNardo picked up his victims and drove them to a sprawling farm property his parents owned in Solebury Township. DiNardo brought his victims there ostensibly to sell them marijuana. Instead, DiNardo and Kratz, his cousin, shot them, burned their bodies and buried them on a remote part of the 90-acre farm. DiNardo ran over one of his victims with a backhoe.
After the killings, DiNardo and Kratz ordered cheesesteaks, then attempted to cover up the crime, Shore said. That included washing their clothes, cleaning blood off the backhoe and wiping down the truck DiNardo used to pick up his victims.
The summary of facts was punctuated by the sobs of the victims’ families, who embraced each other as they listened.
Then, one after another, loved ones of the four young victims delivered emotional statements about their ongoing loss and grief.
“We keep asking ourselves, ‘Why did this happen?’ “ said Sharon Patrick, the grandmother of victim Jimi Patrick, who was 19. “A day does not go by when I don’t think about Jimi.
“My heart is broken. I will never, ever be the same,” she said. “It has taken over my life.”
Anthony Finocchiaro, the father of victim Dean Finocchiaro, 19, told the court: “We will never see the smile that lifted the mood on the room.”
He then turned directly to DiNardo and stated: “I hope that Dean’s spirit haunts you the rest of your miserable life.”
The precise motive behind the killings has never been fully known, something investigators have struggled with the past year. DiNardo told authorities in his taped confession that he killed his first victim because he brought $800 for $8,000 worth of marijuana, yet offer little else in explaining what prompted such a violent response.
Before the murders, DiNardo posted photos of himself holding guns and publicly solicited sex acts from women. He left Arcadia University after one semester and was later banned from the campus over a “verbal altercation.”
DiNardo had frequent contact with police, and he also had received in-patient mental health treatment, including a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Pain, rage, unbearable loss
Many family members, including, James Fratanduono, the uncle of victim Tom Meo, said the tragedy has left them so anguished that they must attend regular counseling. Fratanduono recounted being with other family members on the 90-acre farm, seeing the heavy machinery used in the killings as television helicopters flew above.
“If I see a backhoe, a helicopter, a cornfield,” Fratanduono said. “I’m taken back to that day. I relive it.”
Melissa Fratanduono, Meo’s mother, tried to fight back tears.
“Tom was brutally murdered. He was tortured. My sweet Tom,” she said. “He was treated like a piece of garbage.”
Fratanduono, standing with her 13-year-old daughter, Gabby, could barely contain her emotions. She turned to face DiNardo, who was sitting next to his lawyer, and launched into an expletive-laced tirade full of the pain and rage she has experienced.
She said “it’s taken everything” for her not to kill DiNardo.
Addressing reporters at the end of the day, Weintraub said after DiNardo’s first killing, a sadistic hold came over him.
“The defendant, for whatever reason he had, he killed Jimi Patrick and after that, he liked it,” Weintraub said. “He knew he was putting himself on the map, and he became a man-eater, so to speak.”
In a blistering statement, Mark Potash, the father of 22-year-old victim Mark Sturgis, said the fact that DiNardo will likely die in prison offers a degree of solace to the family of victims.
“Your only way out of prison is wearing a toe tag,” Potash said. “That’s the least we all deserve.”