WILKES-BARRE — Hugo Selenski’s defense team was getting ready for the long-awaited double homicide trial that was, once again, stopped dead in its tracks.
It was announced Friday during a brief pre-trial hearing after a two-hour, closed-door meeting that the state Office of Attorney General is presenting witnesses before a grand jury connected to the decade-old Selenski case.
What the grand jury is investigating remains a mystery. Insiders were not releasing details Monday.
Attorney Al Flora’s presence and the absence of Selenski’s lead defense lawyer, Shelley Centini, from the courtroom also raised unanswered questions.
Selenski, 39, is facing the death penalty if convicted in the strangulation deaths of Tammy Fassett and Michael Kerkowski on May 3, 2002. On June 5, 2003, their bodies were found buried outside a Kingston Township house where Selenski lived.
Selenski was charged with their homicides in May 2006. His trial has been delayed numerous times amid appeals and changes in defense attorneys, district attorneys and judges involved in the case.
Fassett’s sister, Lisa Sands, said Monday she remains in the dark about what happened on Friday. She did, however, praise District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis and the prosecution team, a stark contrast to criticizing prosecutors, Selenski’s lawyers and judges about the numerous trial delays over the years.
In a prepared statement Sands stated: “I have no idea what is going on. I am sure that the prosecution team and District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis will get to the bottom of what is going on so that we can go to trial. We will only have to try Hugo once and get it over with for Tammy’s sake and for her family and friends.”
June 6 trial brief
Centini and co-defense lawyer Edward Rymsza on June 6 filed their trial brief containing proposed questions to potential jurors during jury selection and a proposed verdict slip. Trial briefs are usually filed with high-profile cases before the start of trial.
The trial brief Centini and Rymsza filed lists the names of 31 law enforcement officers, four employees of the state police crime lab, 10 scientists, a reporter and a former reporter, six members of the victims’ families and 65 other potential witnesses. Potential jurors will be asked if they know any of the listed names.
The filing of the trial brief on June 6 suggests Selenski’s lawyers expected the trial to start Aug. 4. Prosecutors did not file their trial brief in response, which raises the question if they knew about the grand jury seated in Harrisburg.
On Friday when Judge Fred Pierantoni III, prosecutors and Rymsza emerged from behind closed doors, Centini was absent and Flora sat next to Selenski. Rymsza said he could not proceed to trial without Centini and asked for a continuance. First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce did not object as Pierantoni continued the trial indefinitely.
Centini and Flora could not be reached for comment on Monday. The pair defended Henry Stubbs, who was convicted by a jury in May 2003 for the brutal slayings of a mother and her 6-year-old daughter in Wilkes-Barre in December 2001.
A long-standing gag order prevents prosecutors and Selenski’s attorneys from publicly discussing the case.