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Selenski trial remains in legal limbo

Grand jury looking into possible witness tampering continues to halt proceedings

September 18. 2013 11:13PM


WILKES-BARRE — The long-delayed Hugo Selenski double-homicide trial will not begin anytime soon because there is a grand jury seated in Harrisburg investigating alleged witness tampering, sources said this week.

Since the trial was postponed indefinitely exactly two months ago today, Selenski’s case has been dormant except for one court filing ordered by Luzerne County Judge Fred Pierantoni III on Sept. 6, according to court records.

A long-standing gag order prevents prosecutors, police and Selenski’s attorneys from publicly discussing the case.

Pierantoni’s sealed order was filed by Selenski’s co-defense attorney, Edward Rymsza.

Among the indications that Selenski’s trial is not expected in the near future, including the lack of court filings the last two months, are:

• He was returned to the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy, where he is serving a 32 1/2- to 65-year sentence for a robbery conviction in Monroe County. He had been housed at the county prison since early June.

• Key witness Paul Weakley, 44, was returned to the U.S. Penitentiary in Tuscon, Ariz., in mid-August. He was moved from the Arizona federal prison in June and kept at SCI-Retreat in Newport Township in preparation of Selenski’s trial, which was scheduled to start on Aug. 4.

Weakley pleaded guilty to his role in the Monroe County robbery with Selenski and the strangulation deaths of Michael Jason Kerkowski and Tammy Lynn Fassett, both 37. He was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison.

Selenski, 40, and Weakley were charged in May 2006 with the killings of Kerkowski and Fassett, whose bodies were unearthed from the Kingston Township house where Selenski lived on June 5, 2003.

Selenski’s trial has frequently been delayed due to appeals with state appellate courts.

Since January 2012, when Rymsza and Attorney Shelley Centini were hired by the court to defend Selenski, there have been 149 court filings by them, prosecutors and Pierantoni. Those filings consist of sealed orders, orders to transport Selenski to the courthouse for pre-trial hearings, testimony preservation of ailing witnesses, notice of appeals and Selenski’s trial brief, which is a multipage document commonly filed before trial.

By contrast, there were 316 court filings from June 2006 through December 2011, court records show.

The trial brief filed by Centini and Rymsza lists the names of 31 law-enforcement officers, four employees of the state police crime lab, 10 scientists, six members of the victims’ families, 67 other potential witnesses known to Selenski or were involved in the investigation. Potential jurors will be asked if they know any of the listed names.

Sources over the last few weeks said the grand jury is investigating alleged witness tampering, but they have refused to say who is involved. Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret and prosecutors are sworn not to disclose matters occurring before the 23-member panel.

According to the state Office of Attorney General’s website, if a grand jury agrees to consider a presentment, prosecutors prepare a document that summarizes evidence the grand jury has heard and sets out recommended criminal charges.

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