Alleged killer’s letters to friends, witnesses discussed

Last updated: April 24. 2014 11:14PM - 3771 Views
By - elewis@timesleader.com

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ROYALTON — Hugo Selenski said he plans to defend himself during his capital murder trial in Luzerne County.

Selenski, 40, made the revelation Thursday at the end of a four-hour preliminary hearing in Dauphin County where he and his former lead defense attorney, Shelley Centini, 38, and private investigator James Sulima, 49, were charged by the state Office of Attorney General with attempting to coerce five prosecution witnesses to change their testimony in the double-homicide case.

The charges were filed after a state grand jury returned a 13-page presentment in January.

It won’t be the first time Selenski has represented himself. He went it alone for more than two months in October, November and December 2011, until Centini and Edward Rymsza were appointed to defend him in January 2012.

Selenski was reacquainted, sort of, with old friends at the hearing before District Judge David Judy. He leaned forward, smiled and nodded when Michael Shutlock, Joseph Pilcavage, Jason McEvoy and Joseph Jay Phillips separately testified. Pilcavage whispered “Good luck, Hugo” when he left the courtroom.

Selenski leaned back into his chair when his former girlfriend, Carey Bartoo, was called to the witness chair.

It was revealed during the hearing that Selenski, who has been jailed since his arrest on June 5, 2003, has managed to pay Bartoo’s rent for an apartment in Plains Township when their daughter, Jamie Bartoo, lived with her.

Luzerne County Detective Lt. Gary Capitano testified he first learned from Shutlock of a hand-written letter Selenski allegedly wrote in July 2012. Capitano said District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and First Assistant D.A. Sam Sanguedolce referred an investigation into the letters to the Attorney General’s Office, which seated a grand jury in Dauphin County.

Pilcavage said he arranged the meeting with Shutlock, McEvoy and Phillips at the request of Centini.

Shutlock, McEvoy and Phillips separately testified that Pilcavage told them it was in their best interest to meet with Centini at Rob’s Pub and Grub restaurant in Larksville. Centini was accompanied by Sulima when the meeting took place, according to the four men.

Each was given a letter from Centini that she told them was written by Selenski.

“I started to read the letter; the part I read was how I was doing; how my children are doing,” Shutlock said. “Then the second paragraph said I should consider changing my testimony. As soon as I got to the second paragraph that I should consider changing my testimony, I threw the letter down and I started to leave.”

McEvoy said he was on his way to Selenski’s house to help clean an in-ground pool when Selenski was arrested on June 5, 2003. He said his letter from Selenski referred to cleaning the pool and being with Phillips that day only. McEvoy said he did not know what day Selenski was referring to.

“(Selenski) said he was with me on that day, but I have no clue what day he is talking about,” McEvoy said.

Only after Selenski questioned McEvoy did McEvoy said he understood the day was June 5, 2003, when McEvoy said he was turned away by state police at the Kingston Township home.

Phillips said he arrived late at the Larksville restaurant after contemplating not going at all. He said his letter referred to being at a house party with Selenski. Phillips said he told Centini the letter was a lie.

Defense attorney Al Flora said Centini’s intentions were to find out what was true and what was false in each of the letters Selenski allegedly wrote to his old friends.

“I thought she wanted me to agree to what was in the letter,” Phillips said.

Bartoo said Centini stopped at her apartment in early 2013, gave her $15 or $20 for cigarettes and milk, and passed a letter from Selenski to her. Bartoo said her letter stated Selenski was angry because she could not remember picking him up in a car.

State prosecutors believe Selenski was trying to construct an alibi defense with his letters regarding the double-homicide case.

Flora and defense attorney Bill Ruzzo, who represents Sulima, said the letters to Selenski’s old friends alerted them that they were on the prosecution witness list and Selenski referring to old times. Selenski — who represented himself —also made that assertion.

Selenski is charged in Luzerne County with the flex-tie strangulation killings of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett on May 2, 2003. His trial has often been delayed due to appeals and attorney turnover.

District Judge David Judy in Royalton said he will reconvene the preliminary hearing on June 4.

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