WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — A jury began deliberating Tuesday in the trial of a man charged with strangling a pharmacist and the pharmacist's girlfriend more than a dozen years ago as part of a plot to rob him of the proceeds of an illegal drug ring.
Prosecutors allege Hugo Selenski and a co-conspirator brutally beat Michael Kerkowski to compel him to reveal the location of tens of thousands of dollars he kept in his house and then killed him and his girlfriend, Tammy Fassett. Authorities found their bodies buried behind Selenski's house along with at least three other sets of human remains.
The pharmacist 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.
Selenski considered Kerkowski to be a goose filled with golden eggs, Luzerne County prosecutor Sam Sanguedolce told a jury in his closing argument, getting the pharmacist to give him tens of thousands of dollars for legal work he never performed.
But Selenski had burned through all the money and needed another $10,000 to cover a check that his girlfriend, Christina Strom, had written to purchase a house, the prosecutor said.
"The golden egg wasn't enough for Mr. Selenski. He wanted all the eggs, all at once," Sanguedolce said, contending the evidence shows that Selenski spent at least $150,000 of Kerkowski's drug money in the months after the slayings.
The jury deliberated about four hours before going home Tuesday. It was to resume deliberations Wednesday.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Selenski, who stood trial nine years after prosecutors lost their first bid to win a homicide conviction against him.
The defense contended Selenski was framed by another man, Paul Weakley, who led police to Selenski's yard in June 2003. 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.
"Does that cause you to question his motive, his bias? Does he have an interest in the outcome of this case? You bet he does," defense attorney Bernard Brown said in his closing argument.
He asked why Selenski, whom he acknowledged was no choir boy, would bury the bodies only 15 feet from the house he shared with his girlfriend.
"That's more reasonable for someone trying to set him up," Brown said.
Selenski, 41, has been a familiar face in northeastern Pennsylvania since his 2003 arrest on charges that he killed a pair of reputed 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.
The fifth body discovered on his property was never publicly identified.
With no DNA or other forensic evidence tying Selenski to the homicides, the prosecution relied in large part on the testimony of Weakley, who told jurors how he plotted with Selenski to rob and kill Kerkowski and then helped him carry out the crimes and bury the bodies.
Weakley described how he and Selenski bound the victims and covered their eyes with duct tape. Weakley said Kerkowski was beaten with a rolling pin and he and Fassett were strangled with flex ties.
While Kerkowski was being beaten, he told them where to find the bags of cash he had concealed in his house, Weakley said.
Brown ridiculed Weakley's story as being tailored to fix the prosecution's theory of the slayings.
"You know how much forensic, scientific evidence they introduced connecting Hugo Selenski to the death of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett? None. Not a single, solitary piece in all the flex ties, in all the duct tape, in all the investigations, in all the evidence, the cars they seized, everything they gathered," Brown said.
But Sanguedolce said there is plenty of testimony and evidence to support a guilty verdict against Selenski.
After the killings, Selenski stole tens of thousands of dollars more that Kerkowski had given to his father for safekeeping, even pointing a gun at the father and threatening him, according to other witnesses.
"We made this case without Paul Weakley, and we've corroborated each and every thing he said," Sanguedolce said.
Selenski, who is already serving decades in prison for an unrelated robbery, escaped from prison in 2003 using a rope fashioned from bed sheets and spent three days on the run before turning himself in.