Jury convicts Pennsylvania man with bodies in yard
Feb. 12, 2015
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — Authorities have wanted to put Hugo Selenski away on murder charges ever since they searched his northeastern Pennsylvania yard in 2003 and found the bodies of a missing pharmacist, the pharmacist's girlfriend, and at least three other sets of human remains.
It took nearly a dozen years and one failed prosecution, but they finally got their man on Wednesday after a jury convicted the 41-year-old career criminal in the strangling deaths of pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett.
Selenski, already serving a long prison sentence on unrelated robbery charges, now faces a potential death sentence after the jury concluded he killed the couple during a 2002 robbery and buried their bodies behind his house. He had little to say as he was led out of the courthouse.
"Not now," he told reporters. "I always told all of you that I will talk to you when this is over, and I will do that. No questions right now."
Prosecutors said Selenski and a co-conspirator brutally beat Kerkowski to compel him to reveal the location of tens of thousands of dollars he kept in his house, then used flex ties to strangle him and Fassett.
Authorities found their decomposing bodies on Selenski's property about a year later. A few months after his 2003 arrest, he escaped from prison using a rope fashioned from bed sheets and spent three days on the run before turning himself in.
The jury reached its verdict after deliberating more than 11 hours over two days. It convicted Selenski of eight of 10 counts, including first-degree murder and robbery, and must now decide whether to send him to death row or give him life in prison without parole. The penalty phase will start Tuesday.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers, under a gag order, were unable to comment on the verdict.
One of Selenski's sisters cried quietly and left the courtroom after hearing it. The victims' relatives remained stoic, hugging prosecutors after the jury exited.
"Thirteen years," murmured Kerkowski's mother, Geraldine Kerkowski, who had testified against her son's killer and, from the witness stand, ordered him to wipe the smirk off his face.
Later Wednesday, Selenski's brother Ronald Selenski Jr. rushed toward an elevator holding the victims' relatives and prosecutors and pointed a finger at them. Sheriff's deputies walked him away from the elevator and put him in handcuffs. It wasn't immediately clear whether he would be charged.
Hugo Selenski has been a familiar face in northeastern Pennsylvania since his 2003 arrest on charges he killed a pair of drug dealers whose charred remains also were found on the property north of Wilkes-Barre.
In 2006, a jury acquitted him of one homicide and deadlocked on another but convicted him of abusing the men's corpses. After the verdict, authorities immediately charged him with killing Kerkowski and Fassett.
Kerkowski, from Hunlock Creek, had pleaded guilty to running a prescription drug ring that netted at least $800,000 and was about to be sentenced when he and Fassett were reported missing in May 2002. They were both 37 years old.
The defense contended Selenski was framed by another man, Paul Weakley, who led police to the bodies in Selenski's yard. Weakley later pleaded guilty in federal court, testified against Selenski to avoid the death penalty and could ask for a reduction of his life prison sentence because of his cooperation.
Weakley, who met Selenski in prison in the 1990s, told jurors how he plotted with Selenski to kill Kerkowski and then helped him carry out the crimes and bury the bodies. He described how he and Selenski bound the victims and covered their eyes with duct tape.
Weakley said Kerkowski, who was beaten with a rolling pin, told them where to find his hidden bags of cash. He said Fassett was killed simply because she was with Kerkowski when they showed up at the pharmacist's house.
After the killings, Selenski stole tens of thousands more dollars that Kerkowski had given to his father for safekeeping, pointing a gun at the father and threatening him, other witnesses said.
The fifth body discovered on Selenski's property was never publicly identified.