WILKES-BARRE -- A state Superior Court panel Wednesday removed one obstacle to the scheduled Sept. 10 start of the double-homicide trial of Hugo Selenski.
A three-member panel of the appellate court ruled against a request by defense attorneys that the court rethink its order speeding consideration of an appeal based on their claim that county Judge Fred Pierantoni improperly denied a request to dismiss the charges against Selenski.
In the request for reconsideration, Selenski's lawyers argued he was not given the opportunity to be heard before the court granted the request on Monday, the same day it was filed by prosecutors.
Selenski, 38, could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering Tammy Fassett and Michael Kerkowski on May 3, 2002. Their bodies were found buried on a Kingston Township property where he was living in June 2003.
Defense attorneys Shelley Centini and Edward Rymsza said they should have been given 14 days to respond after being served with the prosecutors' application for the expedited appeal.
"Its application cannot possibly justify the incursion of the most basic procedural rights to a criminal defendant, namely the opportunity to be heard prior to a court granting such extreme relief," the defense attorneys said when asking for the reconsideration.
The panel issued a one-sentence order without explanation.
County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and three assistants said Selenski's attorneys said the defense appealed the judge's decision after failing to delay the trial.
"By filing the appeal, the defendant is attempting to obtain a delay of trial that he could not obtain by other means," the prosecutors said.
Without an expedited appeal, the extended period of time to bring the case to trial "will substantially handicap" the prosecution. Key witnesses are elderly and in poor health, prosecutors said. In addition witness Paul Weakley's life is in danger. Weakley has been attacked in federal prison and state inmate Michael Scerbo faces a charge of solicitation to murder him to prevent him from testifying, prosecutors said.
The appellate court, in its initial one-page order granting the expedited appeal, also ordered attorneys to file court papers by Aug. 27 so a hearing may be scheduled in the case.
Selenski and Weakley were charged in May 2006 with the deaths of Fassett and Kerkowski. Weakley pleaded guilty and has been serving a life sentence.