WILKES-BARRE -- Lawyers for Hugo Selenski tried to stop the punishment phase of his murder trial because of Governor Tom Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
Lawyers for Selenski filed a petition Tuesday morning as the death penalty phase of the trial was about to begin.
What Governor Wolf did in Harrisburg last week is now being felt in Wilkes-Barre. The governor issued a moratorium on executions until the state's death penalty law can be studied.
Selenski's lawyers filed a motion to take the death penalty off the table, or to delay the sentencing hearing until the state acts.
Court started almost three hours past its scheduled time. The judge decided not to delay Hugo Selenski's sentencing any further regardless of the governor's recent moratorium.
He will leave it in the jury's hands to decide if Selenski will get life in prison or the death penalty.
A jury has decided that Selenski did, in fact, rob and kill Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett in 2002.
Now Selenski's life hangs in the balance of their hands as they decide his ultimate fate.
In his opening statement for the penalty portion of this trial, prosecutor Jarrett Ferentino told the jury, "If you think it is easy for me to stand here and ask you … to consider death for Mr. Selenski, let me assure you, it is not easy."
But Ferentino says that Selenski's history of convictions for violent crimes and the way he committed these murders that death is the only punishment he deserves.
He reminded jurors of the torture the victims endured, asking them to imagine, "being bound with your hands behind your back, your feet being bound, duct tape around your eyes, taken to a basement, all the while your girlfriend is bound upstairs."
But Selesnki's defense says this monster the prosecution has painted for them is not who Selenski is, asking the jury, "who amongst us would want to be judged by the worst thing we have been accused of? There is much, much more to Mr. Selenski."
In defense attorney Edward Rymsza's opening statement, he admitted to the jury, "it's very difficult and very hard to stand in front of each of you in light of your verdict. I will be lying to you if I said we weren't disappointed with your verdict."
He reminded the jury that the guilty verdict of first-degree murder came with a minimum life sentence and that's harsh enough, saying, "there is nothing to gain from removing him from the human community."
After opening statements the prosecution called up three witnesses to the stand to testify about Hugo Selenski's violent felony past, particularly a robbery he committed in 1994 in Plains Township.
Then they quickly rested.
Court will resume Wednesday when the defense is expected to start calling character witnesses for Selenski.