Sunday, July 27, 2014

Latest Selenski case twist frustrates victim’s sister

Charges against lawyer, investigator most likely to delay murder trial

January 28. 2014 11:15PM

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MESHOPPEN — Lisa Sands believes there is a concrete wall blocking the circus she says is the Luzerne County Courts.

Sands has been waiting for the long-delayed capital murder trial of Hugo Selenski, 40, who is accused of killing her sister and best friend, Tammy Fassett, and Michael Kerkowski in May 2002.

That light at the end of Sand’s tunnel became dimmer Monday when Selenski, his lead defense attorney, Shelley Centini, 38, and private investigator James Sulima, 49, were charged by the state Office of Attorney General with conspiring to intimidate five prosecution witnesses, perjury and obstructing justice.

Selenski’s anticipated trial scheduled to begin with jury selection on March 3 will most likely be delayed as prosecutors are seeking to remove Centini and Sulima. Selenski’s trial since he was charged in the killings of Fassett and Kerkowski in May 2006 has often been delayed due to appeals to the state’s superior and supreme courts.

Selenski’s case also has been assigned to six county judges since 2006. The case is currently assigned to Judge Fred Pierantoni III.

“It will probably be another year before lawyers get appointed and another year for them to get up to speed with the case,” Sands said. “All I want is for this to get over with for Tammy’s sake. There is a concrete wall in front of us and a circus on the other side and that circus is the courts in Luzerne County.”

State prosecutors charged Selenski, Centini and Sulima after a state grand jury presented a scathing 13-page report of their findings that was released on Monday.

The presentment says Centini and Sulima met with five prosecution witnesses at Rob’s Pub and Grub tavern in Larksville in July. At the meeting, Centini and Sulima allegedly gave them letters written by Selenski directing them to alter or change their testimony during the trial.

Prosecutors allege Centini provided cash to one witness and expressed to another that Selenski was angry with the witness for prior statements to police.

“I am surprised; I’ve known Shelley for years,” former Selenski defense attorney John Pike said. “Shelley and I represented Joseph Kerekes. She was up to speed, diligent and aggressive in her defense. She was very thorough in her preparation and research.”

Kerekes pleaded guilty to second degree murder in December 2009 for his role in the killing of Bryan Kocis in Dallas Township in January 2007. Kerekes was sentenced to life in prison.

“This case has gone on for so long with so many twist and turns,” Pike said about the Selenski case. “It’s a new chapter for this story.”

Pike said he represented Selenski for more than six years and not once did Selenski ask him to pass any letters to friends or witnesses.

“He never asked me, he never threatened me,” Pike said. “We always had a good dialogue. Our issue was we had a difference in opinion on defense strategy.”

Pike was permitted to leave the Selenski case in the fall of 2011. Selenski represented himself for about three months until January 2012, when Centini was hired by the court as an independent contractor to take over his defense.

Attorney Demetrius Fannick, who successfully defended Selenski on charges he killed two men in May 2003, said he was not surprised by the presentment because rumors had circulated within the courthouse since July, when prosecutors notified Pierantoni of the grand jury investigation.

“I’ve always found her to be very bright, very zealous and she’s been quite active with the local bar association giving seminars on criminal law,” Fannick said about Centini. “I know from speaking with her briefly about Hugo’s case, she obviously contacted me because I represented Hugo in the first case. I know she was anxious to try the case.”

Preliminary hearings for Selenski, Centini and Sulima are scheduled for Feb. 10 before District Judge David Judy in Dauphin County.


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