Hours after authorities said they discovered human remains during a search for four missing men in Bucks County, Pa., an attorney for a person of interest in the case said he had confessed to his role in the slayings of the men.
The sudden shifts came as the investigation in Pennsylvania had gripped the region and drawn national attention to the wealthy community where authorities were scouring a sprawling farm tied to the investigation. Early Thursday morning, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub announced that they had found the body of one of the missing men and other human remains, shifting the case to a homicide investigation.
A day earlier, authorities arrested Cosmo Dinardo, 20, of Bensalem, a “person of interest,” for stealing a car belonging to one of the missing men. Dinardo’s parents own the sprawling property being searched, according to prosecutors.
On Thursday evening, Dinardo confessed to prosecutors, according to his attorney.
“He confessed to his participation or commission in the murders of four young men,” Paul Lang, one of Dinardo’s lawyers, told reporters. “In exchange for that confession, Mr. Dinardo was promised by the district attorney that he will spare his life by not invoking the death penalty.”
Weintraub had no immediate comment on the confession, his spokesman said.
Dinardo apologized to relatives of the victims Thursday as he left the courthouse. Reporters asked Dinardo — who was wearing an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and glasses — what he would say to the relatives of the victims.
“I’m sorry,” Dinardo said before climbing into a police vehicle.
While Pennsylvania does have the death penalty, the sentence is rarely meted out, with only three executions since 1976, among the fewest of any state with capital punishment over that time. In 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced a death penalty moratorium that remains in place.
Earlier Thursday, Weintraub had announced that investigators had found the body of Dean Finocchiaro among remains discovered in a grave more than 12 feet deep on the rural property in Solebury Township, where they have been searching for the missing men since last week. Cadaver dogs led investigators to the site, which Weintraub identified as a “common grave.”
Weintraub, speaking at a midnight news briefing, said he was now classifying the case as a homicide, but “we just don’t know how many homicides.” He did not say how Finocchiaro was killed.
Questions remained in the case, including how, precisely, Dinardo was connected to the missing men.
At another briefing Thursday, Weintraub declined to say whether authorities had identified the other remains as those of the three other missing men. The first of the men to disappear, Jimi Tara Patrick, 19, was last seen July 5. Finocchiaro, Mark Sturgis, 22, and Thomas Meo, 21, vanished Friday. Some or all of them appeared to know one another, authorities said.
“This painstaking process will go on,” Weintraub said early Thursday. “We’re going to bring each and every one of these lost boys home to their families one way or another. We will not rest until we do that.”
Weintraub said authorities were making good progress but would not elaborate on what that entailed.
The discovery of the remains and Dinardo’s confession marked a sudden shift in the arduous search for the missing men, which has gripped the county. Over the weekend, authorities from several local and state law enforcement agencies — along with the FBI — launched an extensive criminal search effort, focusing on a sprawling farm belonging to Dinardo’s parents in a rural area about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.
Police had initially arrested Dinardo in February after finding him with a 20-gauge shotgun he was not authorized to possess because of his history of mental illness, according to a police affidavit. Authorities initially dismissed the charges but refiled them Monday after the disappearances of the four men.
Dinardo was released from custody Tuesday night after his father posted 10 percent of a $1 million bail. Then, on Wednesday, authorities arrested Dinardo again, accusing him of stealing and trying to sell a 1996 Nissan Maxima that belonged to Meo, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office. Dinardo allegedly tried to sell Meo’s car for $500 to a friend, Weintraub said.
Authorities found the car Sunday, along with Meo’s car keys and title, in a garage on a Solebury Township property owned by Dinardo’s parents, Weintraub said.
The car also contained Meo’s diabetic supplies, according to a criminal complaint filed in district court. A police affidavit filed with the complaint said that Meo is diabetic and relies on insulin, noting that he “carries his diabetic supplies wherever he goes and would not intentionally leave them behind.”
According to Weintraub’s office, relatives said Meo could not have survived without the diabetic kit.
Police found Sturgis’s car less than two miles away from Meo’s.
Dinardo was arraigned Wednesday via video link on felony charges of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. A magisterial district judge ordered him held on $5 million cash bail, saying she found that Dinardo “is a grave risk.”
“We bought ourselves a little bit of time” with the charges and bail amount, Weintraub said. “It is my hope that he does not post that, but that’s his prerogative.”
Dinardo has a history of mental illness and was previously involuntarily committed to a mental health institution after firing a shotgun, authorities said. Prosecutors said he is schizophrenic, a flight risk and a “dangerous person,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, adding that his lawyers claimed he was being targeted because of his mental health issues.
No one answered when a Washington Post reporter visited an address listed in court records for Dinardo. The large home, with a swimming pool, was on a quiet, leafy cul-de-sac about 20 miles from the farm.
A lawyer representing Dinardo’s parents and the owners of the 90-acre farm, Antonio and Sandra Dinardo, had released a statement saying that the family is cooperating with the investigation and sympathizes with the relatives of the missing men, according to the Associated Press.
Weintraub emphasized that while authorities have focused on Dinardo, “this investigation is still wide open.”
“We don’t pick a person and then try to build a case around that person,” Weintraub said. “That’s not fair to anyone. As of this moment, he remains a person of interest. But if others arise and we can name them, we will.”
Authorities have identified more information about the relationships between the men than they have made public, Weintraub said.
The men who vanished seemed to have some connections to Dinardo. Meo and Sturgis first met Dinardo when he was looking to sell marijuana, one of Meo’s friends told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dinardo and Patrick both went to Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem. Dinardo and Finocchiaro were both in at least one Facebook page for buying and selling ATVs, the newspaper reported.
Two of the missing men, Sturgis and Meo, were good friends and worked together at Sturgis’s father’s construction business. Sturgis told his father he would be hanging out with Meo on Friday night, according to a criminal complaint.
The two friends failed to show up for work the following day and have not been seen since. Meo’s girlfriend last spoke with him through text messages Friday night, shortly before 7 p.m. After that, Meo stopped responding, “which is out of the ordinary and not common,” according to the complaint.
Patrick, the first of the four men to disappear, had just finished his freshman year at Loyola University in Baltimore. In a statement released Thursday, Patrick’s family described him as a longtime baseball player — an excellent pitcher and hitter, they said. He was majoring in business at Loyola and was recognized on the dean’s list, they said.
A prayer service was held Wednesday at Loyola for Patrick. The school released a statement saying that they were hoping and praying for his safe return, and urging students who are away on summer break and may be unnerved by Patrick’s disappearance to seek counseling and help at home or through the school.
The families of the missing have also kept a vigil throughout the week near the area being searched by investigators, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“At this point, as the hours pass, it seems more and more grim,” Mark Potash, Sturgis’s father, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week.
He said his son is a skilled guitar player and athlete, and “super intelligent.” He has three sisters and one brother.
Eric Beitz told the Inquirer that he is good friends with Meo, whom he called a talented wrestler and a “hell of an athlete.” Meo, his friend said, is “the most good-hearted, loyal, hard-working young man I’ve ever met in my life.”
Wil Snyder, 19, who called himself one of Finocchiaro’s best friends, told the Bucks County Courier Times that Finocchiaro worked a retail job.
“He’s a good guy,” Snyder told the newspaper, “a good friend.”
This report will continue to be updated.
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