By SHEENA DELAZIO
April 18, 2013
WILKES-BARRE — With his existing defense team intact, double murder suspect Hugo Selenski will stand trial on June 24, a county judge said Thursday.
But the sister of homicide victim Tammy Fassett says she is not going to hold her breath for the trial that has been delayed many times over the years. “In two weeks, it’ll be 11 years (since Fassett was murdered),” said Lisa Sands of Meshoppen. “My sister would say: ‘Hang on. Be strong.’”
The scheduled trial date came after a nearly four-hour hearing, which included a closed-door discussion between a judge and Selenski’s attorney regarding the defense attorneys’ claim they haven’t been paid for their recent pretrial work and a request to be taken off the case.
Selenski, 39, of Kingston Township, is awaiting trial in connection with the May 3, 2002 deaths of Michael Kerkowski and Fassett, both 38. Their bodies were unearthed from the property where Selenski was living in June 2003.
Two weeks ago, Selenski’s attorneys, Shelley Centini and Edward Rymza, filed court papers seeking to be taken off Selenski’s case, stating they hadn’t been paid since October and never signed up for pro bono work.
“We have to stop working if we’re not being paid,” Centini told Judge Fred Pierantoni on Thursday. “We’re being forced into servitude.”
Pierantoni responded by saying the two attorneys have been “compensated handsomely” for their defense work, and that although he set a final cap — three different times — Pierantoni said he never said he wouldn’t entertain another request for payment for “extraordinary circumstances.”
Both attorneys would not disclose in open court the amounts they have been paid, but records from the Luzerne County Controller’s Office show $90,869 has been paid to Centini since she was appointed by the court in January 2012.
Centini and Rymza argued Thursday the non-payment for their representation affects not only them, but also their private law firms and the employees and clients who rely on them. The attorneys noted they are being paid significantly less to represent Selenski than they would charge a private client.
Centini told Pierantoni she had a “list” of reasons why she and Rymsza were seeking additional funds, and requested a private hearing with Pierantoni. By law, the hearing is closed to the public and prosecutors because the discussion includes defense strategy.
After an hour, Pierantoni returned to the courtroom, where Centini said she was withdrawing the request to be taken off the case and would put into motion the withdrawal of an appeal to the state Superior Court regarding the non-payment issue — signaling an agreement regarding compensation.
Selenski said Thursday while leaving the Luzerne County Courthouse that he is glad a trial date has been scheduled and is confident the trial will begin June 24.
In addition to a trial date, Pierantoni also scheduled a hearing for May 16 to address an outstanding request by defense attorneys regarding a claim of misconduct by prosecutors.
Centini and Rymsza said in court papers filed in December that prosecutors obtained medical and psychiatric records of Selenski, even though at no time during the course of the case has Selenski made either his mental or physical health an issue.
Court papers say prosecutors obtained the records in August and have been holding the “ill-gotten gains” silently and “intentionally” issued subpoenas to obtain the records.