September 30, 2014

Elyria
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Daniel Kovarbasich is facing up to 10 years in prison

ELYRIA — A county judge Thursday found 16-year-old Daniel Kovarbasich guilty of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in the Jan. 22 beating and stabbing death of Duane Hurley.

Daniel, who was tried as an adult, could get up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced later this year. Had be been convicted of the murder and felonious assault charges he originally faced, Daniel could have been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Daniel had taken the stand earlier in the day Thursday, telling Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge that he killed Hurley to avoid having sex with the man who had sexually abused him since he was 15. Burge heard the case instead of a jury at Daniel’s request.

Daniel said that he had gone to Hurley’s house the day of the killing knowing that Hurley, 55, likely would try to have sex with him in exchange for $80 Daniel planned to spend on an anniversary celebration with his girlfriend.

Hurley had promised him the night before to give him the money and to help him get a tutor so he wouldn’t have to attend school, but he wanted something in exchange, Daniel said.

“I seen that look on him,” Daniel said, which told him Hurley wanted to have sex.

Daniel said he was sitting at the computer in the bedroom of Hurley’s Ronald Drive home in North Ridgeville and Hurley was facedown on the bed. Daniel said he was mad that Hurley wanted to have sex.

“I just seen the pickle jar and I just picked it up and slammed it in the back of his head,” Daniel said during his testimony, during which his face turned red and he chewed his lip.

Daniel said he then stabbed Hurley twice — once in the head and once in the chest — with a folding lock-blade knife he was carrying before the knife broke.

He then ran to the kitchen, grabbed a kitchen knife and ran into Hurley in the hallway, where Daniel said he punched him several times. He said he then stabbed Hurley again and kicked him in the head four or five times as he lay on the floor.

Daniel said he thought he had stabbed Hurley about 17 times, although county Coroner Paul Matus testified earlier in the trial that Hurley was stabbed 55 times and hit in the head with the pickle jar three times.

Defense attorney Jack Bradley said he was pleased with Burge’s decision to clear Daniel of murder and instead find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Daniel originally had claimed that he was defending himself from Hurley when he killed him, but Bradley said Daniel finally came clean about what happened and the sexual abuse he endured at Hurley’s hands.

Daniel’s family also seemed relieved at the decision. Daniel’s father, Terry Kovarbasich, said he hopes his son can receive the psychological treatment he needs in prison to help him get over being the victim of sexual abuse.

“He’s OK,” Terry Kovarbasich said. “He’s not the same right now. I think he’s still in shock.”

Terry Kovarbasich — who picked up his son from Hurley’s house after the killing — called the ordeal “a nightmare” for his family and said that the authorities had wanted to see Daniel put away for murder.

“They were on a one-way street and they wanted to see my son in prison for the rest of his life,” he said.

After nearly everyone had left the courtroom on Thursday afternoon, Terry Kovarbasich returned and called out a thank you to Burge as the judge talked to attorneys.

Donna Kovarbasich, Daniel’s mother, said there were signs that Hurley, who became almost a member of the family, was a sexual predator, but she and her family didn’t recognize it.

“We found him to be very kind, very considerate to kids, but it turned out to be the opposite,” she said.

During the trial Bradley and attorney Michael Stepanik — who both worked on the case for free — said Hurley had “groomed” Daniel to be someone he could molest.

Daniel testified that he met Hurley a few years ago while Hurley was walking his dog and Hurley offered to pay him for helping around the house. Daniel’s parents said they later went to meet Hurley and eventually became friends with him.

Over the years, Daniel testified, Hurley progressed from off-color jokes about male genitalia and walking into the bathroom while he was urinating to asking Daniel to expose himself.

From there, he said, Hurley began to touch him and ask him to touch him in return. Eventually the sexual contact evolved into oral sex and sodomy, he said.

In exchange for sexual favors, Daniel said Hurley would give him money, buy him clothes and food and allow him to use his computer and drive his cars, including a Corvette and a Plymouth Prowler.

“It was always something I wanted or he did, like if he bought me clothes or if I maybe wanted to drive the car,” Daniel testified. “But when it came to oral sex, it was for the Corvette. I wanted to drive the Corvette and he said, ‘Well, you know what that means, you know, bigger toys, bigger things.’ ”

Assistant County Prosecutor Mike Kinlin said the perks of the relationship with Hurley appeared to have been why Daniel continued to come around despite the molestation.

“You went over to Duane’s because you wanted these nice things,” he said while questioning Daniel on the stand.

Throughout the trial, Kinlin didn’t deny there was a relationship between Hurley and Daniel and acknowledged that Hurley had thousands of pornographic images and videos on his computers. Many of the images appeared to feature pedophilia with underage teenage boys engaged in graphic sex acts.

Pictures of Daniel — including one of him sleeping and others of him posing with friends near Hurley’s Corvette — also were found on Hurley’s computers, but none of those was sexual in nature, North Ridgeville police Detective Randall Young testified Thursday.

Kinlin argued that Daniel had “ambushed” Hurley when he attacked him with the pickle jar.

After the verdict Kinlin — who, like Daniel’s lawyers, waived his closing arguments — said the verdict spoke for itself.

“It is what it is,” he said.

Kinlin also had pointed out during the trial that Daniel had given several conflicting accounts of what happened, including telling a nurse at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, where he was treated for a racing heart after the killing, that Hurley had attacked him with a knife. Daniel also told police that he didn’t remember what had happened except for Hurley chasing him with a knife.

Daniel testified that he had misled people, including police, because he didn’t want anyone to learn that he had been sexually active with Hurley.

“I didn’t know what would happen if anybody found out,” he said. “I was embarrassed.”

Bradley said it took some time for Daniel to finally tell even his own lawyers what really happened, something that’s not uncommon in sex cases.

“It’s hard for a young man to admit to being involved in a homosexual relationship with a 55-year-old man,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.