WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole in the strangulation deaths of a pharmacist and his girlfriend in northeastern Pennsylvania more than a dozen years ago is seeking a new trial, arguing that the court should not have removed his chosen attorney.
Hugo Selenski, 41, also argues that Luzerne County prosecutors should have notified the defense that they planned to advocate for a reduced federal sentence for a key witness in the murder trial.
Selenski was convicted in February of first-degree murder in the 2002 deaths of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett. Their bodies were among at least five sets of remains found in Selenski's yard near Wilkes-Barre in 2003.
Defense attorney Shelley Centini was removed from the case in February 2014 after she, Selenski and a defense investigator were accused of witness intimidation. The charges were later dismissed, but Centini never returned to the legal team. The appeal argues that the motion for her removal "was baseless and unnecessary and its grounds were concocted by the commonwealth to create a conflict and deprive Mr. Selenski of his counsel of his choice."
The appeal also argues, among other things, that prosecutors should have disclosed plans to "advocate" for Selenski's former girlfriend, 42-year-old Christina Strom, when she was sentenced on federal money laundering and obstruction of justice charges. Prosecutors accused Strom of helping Selenski launder more than $70,000 he obtained through drug trafficking, robbery and the slayings.
Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino testified at Strom's sentencing hearing that she was a critical witness who helped prosecutors build a "strong case" against Selenski. Strom, 42, was sentenced last month to a year in federal prison.
Prosecutors said Selenski and a co-conspirator beat Kerkowski in May 2002 to compel him to reveal the location of tens of thousands of dollars he kept in his house, and then used flex ties to strangle him and Fassett. Authorities found their decomposing bodies about a year later on property where Selenski lived, along with at least three other sets of human remains.
In 2006, a jury considering the deaths of two among the other three sets of remains convicted Selenski of abusing the men's corpses. The fifth body was never publicly identified.