- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — A telegenic ex-con who likes to taunt prosecutors goes on trial this week, nearly three years since a tip led police to a gruesome discovery — the remains of at least five persons buried in his back yard.

Hugo Selenski’s murder trial has been eagerly anticipated in northeastern Pennsylvania, where the charismatic one-time bank robber has become something of a celebrity. He escaped from jail after his 2003 arrest, gave newspaper interviews in which he heaped scorn on prosecutors — and breezily denied any knowledge of the corpses found on his property.

At least two Web logs chronicle all the twists and turns in the case, and a local newspaper recently published an 1,800-word story on Selenski’s prison artwork.

So many spectators are expected in the courthouse when jury selection begins today that Luzerne County deputies installed noise-dampening material around courtroom doors and will use silent metal detectors in an effort to minimize disruptions.

Prosecutors will portray Selenski, 32, as a vicious, remorseless killer. They plan to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of killing suspected drug dealers Frank James, 29, and Adeiye Keiler, 22.

They contend that Selenski lured the two men to his home north of Wilkes-Barre, intending to rob them. Selenski killed one of the men with a shotgun, then tied the other one up and questioned him for several hours about the location of his drugs and money before killing him, too, authorities say.

Selenski then set fire to the bodies and placed their charred bones in plastic bags, authorities say.

Police found the bags in June 2003 while searching for the bodies of Michael Kerkowski, a pharmacist linked to drug dealing who had been missing since May 2002, and Mr. Kerkowski’s girlfriend, Tammy Lynn Fassett. Their corpses were unearthed from a shallow grave near Selenski’s house.

Selenski has not been charged in those deaths but is considered a suspect. In court papers, prosecutors have said they think Selenski strangled and robbed the pair in 2002.

Other human remains found in the yard have yet to be identified. Officials have not been able to determine how many sets of remains there are, but have said there are at least five and as many as 12, counting the four identified victims.

Selenski staged a daring break in late 2003, opening a window at the Luzerne County jail and using a rope made of bedsheets to climb down seven stories. He turned himself in three days later. His purported partner, who was severely injured, has claimed that Selenski beat him nearly unconscious and then pushed him out the window.

Last week, a judge tossed escape charges against Selenski, ruling that prosecutors did not file a court document on time.

It’s not clear whether Selenski, who served nearly seven years in federal prison for a 1994 bank robbery, will testify in his own defense.

District Attorney David Lupas declined to comment on the case, but prosecutors are expected to call about 50 witnesses.

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