WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — A man strangled a pharmacist and the pharmacist's girlfriend more than a dozen years ago because he needed money to help his girlfriend buy a house, a prosecutor said during closing arguments Tuesday at the defendant's homicide trial.
Prosecutors allege Hugo Selenski and a co-conspirator tortured Michael Kerkowski as part of a robbery plot, 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, 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 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 $150,000 of Kerkowski's drug money in the months after the slayings.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Selenski, 41, 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.
After his 2003 arrest, Selenski was charged with killing a pair of reputed drug dealers whose charred remains were also found on the property. 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 physical 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, 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 he was being tortured, Kerkowski revealed the location of tens of thousands of dollars he'd hidden in the 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 more that Kerkowski had given to his father for safekeeping — at one point 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 everything he said," Sanguedolce said.
The jury was expected to begin deliberating later Tuesday afternoon.
Selenski is already serving decades in prison for an unrelated robbery.