Selenski on appeal to courts
BY MICHAEL R. SISAK
Homicide defendant Hugo Selenski’s court-appointed attorneys have taken his trial-halting double-jeopardy appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The attorneys, who lost in the state Superior Court two months ago, are challenging the legality of Selenski’s pending trial, citing a state law requiring prosecutors to bring all related crimes to trial at once. They filed notice of the appeal with the state Supreme Court last Friday.
The attorneys, Shelley L. Centini and Edward J. Rymsza, are asking the high court to dismiss the charges against Selenski and cancel his trial for the 2002 killings of pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and Kerkowski’s girlfriend, Tammy Fassett.
Luzerne County Judge Fred A. Pierantoni postponed the trial, last scheduled for Sept. 10, indefinitely after Centini and Rymsza appealed his ruling that prosecutors were justified in splitting four murders linked to Selenski into two separate trials.
A three-judge panel of the state Superior Court rejected the appeal in September.
Selenski’s attorneys, in their Superior Court appeal, argued prosecutors made a “strategic choice” to await the outcome of his first trial in 2006 before filing the charges for the Kerkowski and Fassett murders, despite being aware of both murders and gathering evidence for both cases in preparation for the first trial.
The prosecution, the attorneys said, was trying Selenski “piecemeal, for its own tactical advantage,” and was “running afoul of the dictates of (state law).”
Selenski’s attorneys will likely make similar arguments in support of their state Supreme Court challenge.
Superior Court President Judge Correale F. Stevens, in a 13-page opinion accompanying his court’s ruling, said Selenski’s attorneys proved three of the four components in the law at the heart of their argument, but failed to show the killings were the result of the same episode of criminal conduct.
Stevens appeared unmoved by the rulings Selenski’s attorneys cited in which courts have stretched the definition of the same “criminal episode” to include a series of crimes over a period of time.
Selenski “has not proven a sufficient logical or temporal relationship between the relevant acts” covered in the first trial and the pending second trial, Stevens wrote. The court, he said, found “no reason” to conclude prosecutors were causing Selenski to “run the gauntlet” again.
Prosecutors, in their own briefs, have countered by saying the Kerkowski and Fassett killings were distinct and separate from those covered at his first trial.
Kerkowski and Fassett were strangled with plastic flex ties in May 2002, prosecutors said. The victims in the other set of killings, drug dealers Frank James and Adeiye Keiler, were gunned down and burned in Selenski’s Kingston Township backyard, prosecutors said.
A jury acquitted Selenski on the first set of murder charges, for James and Keiler, but found that he had abused their corpses. Immediately after the verdict, in 2006, prosecutors charged Selenski with the 2002 Kerkowski and Fassett killings. Their remains were also discovered in Selenski’s backyard.