Pa. police first thought couple buried in yard had fled town

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Day 2 recap.

Prosecutors on Friday sought to portray Hugo Selenski as a liar with testimony from a retired state trooper contradicting what Selenski allegedly told the parents of murder victim Michael Kerkowski.

Agent Robert Melnick of the state Attorney General’s office testified he arrested pharmacist Michael Kerkowski in April 2001 after investigators discovered at least 335,000 painkiller pills, valued at $840,000, were unaccounted for at Kerkowski’s pharmacy in Tunkhannock. Kerkowski’s mother, Geraldine Kerkowski, testified Thursday that Selenski, who she thought was a trusted friend of her son’s, was the first person she and her late husband contacted after their son and his girlfriend, Tammy Fassett, disappeared in May 2002. Selenski soon began contacting them seeking money, supposedly to cover a legal defense for Kerkowski, a pharmacist awaiting sentencing on drug charges for illegally selling hundreds of thousands of dollars of prescription painkillers. The Kerkowski family became worried and had their lawyer, Basil Russin, send a letter to police saying they would cooperate if they had any contact with their son. She testified that at one point her son told her, “I trust him, whatever he asks for give him, because he`s going to help me.” After cross examination, Geraldine Kerkowski seemed relieved walking out of the courthouse having gone face-to-face with the man accused of killing her son.

A year after that conversation, police found the corpses of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett buried in Selenski’s yard, plastic ties around their necks. In June 2002, Selenski told the worried parents that retired Trooper Thomas Appleman had told him the trooper planned to “nail our asses to the cross,” she said. The trooper backed up the Kerkowskis’ account that Michael Kerkowski’s house appeared out of order in the days after the disappearance, with their vehicles parked in an unusual manner, a decorative rolling pin that had been on the kitchen wall found in the basement and vacuum cleaner marks on the carpet, he said. But when Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino asked her to point out Selenski in the courtroom, it was clear she had lost any respect she once had for Selenski.

Video tapes for a security system were missing, but a few things were still there — Kerkowski’s wallet with his ID cards and about $200 in cash, as well as Fassett’s overnight bag, Appleman testified. The next month, he interviewed Selenski, asking him about a $5,000 check Kerkowski had written on a check from his business, the Medicine Shoppe on Route 29, Eaton Township, Wyoming County. In reality, prosecutors say, Selenski knew that Michael Kerkowski was sitting on an enormous sum of cash, and wound up killing him and Fassett to get the money.

Selenski said he used the LexisNexis database to research case law and he “knew how to work the system and become a better criminal,” the trooper testified. The grieving mother protested when she caught Selenski smiling at her from the defense table, prompting the judge to admonish her to simply answer the questions. Prosecutors allege Selenski and an accomplice, Paul Weakley, beat Kerkowski with the rolling pin to extract information about where he had stashed the money he made from selling pills.

Desperate and trusting, they gave Selenski $30,000 of the $60,000 their son had given to them for safekeeping, then, a month later, forked over the rest. The Times Leader reported Thursday that reporter Ed Lewis would return to the courtroom to cover the Selenski trial, a day after he was removed because he is a potential prosecution witness.

Estimated conservatively, Kerkowski made about $840,000 in profits from those illegal sales — and the audit didn’t even focus on other commonly abused drugs, Melnick said. Geraldine Kerkowski told jurors that in the months after her son’s disappearance, she was in regular contact with Selenski — but she also heard from Selenski’s codefendant Paul Weakley, who pleaded guilty to murder in the case and is expected to be a key witness against Selenski. Weakley reached out to the Kerkowskis once using a fake name, saying he needed $10,000 for a computer part he claimed would allow him to contact Kerkowski, she said. Selenski somehow knew about the $60,000 Kerkowski had given his parents for safekeeping that was hidden behind insulation in an air vent in their basement, Geraldine Kerkowski said.

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