WHEELING, W.Va. -- Eugene Talik Jr., a barrel-chested truck driver charged with the murder of his mistress, will go on trial for his life Jan. 15.
Capital cases are rare in West Virginia, one of 13 states without the death penalty. But because Mr. Talik is being prosecuted by the federal government, he could be executed if he is convicted.
Mr. Talik, 39, of Aleppo in suburban Pittsburgh, sat silently Friday as his lawyers and prosecutors discussed the final details of jury selection with U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp.
Mr. Talik, a married man with three children, had a history of infidelity, according to investigators. Prosecutors say his last affair ended with him killing his 28-year-old lover, Kelly Jo Elliott of Valley Grove, W.Va.
His motive, they say, was to silence her, so she could never tell his wife about the affair.
Prosecutors say Mr. Talik hired an employee of his moving-van business to commit the murder. But when the hired killer decided he could not go through it, prosecutors say, Mr. Talik raped Ms. Elliott and then strangled her himself.
Ms. Elliott, the mother of two small boys, died May 25, 2006. Her remains were found in Elk County, Pa., in late fall, after John Deutsch, who says he was Mr. Talik's hired killer, agreed to testify against his former friend.
Mr. Deutsch said they lured Ms. Elliott to Dallas Pike, east of Wheeling, for the sole purpose of taking her life. He said he struck Ms. Elliott with a pipe, but then stopped himself from hurting her more.
By his account, Mr. Talik then attacked Ms. Elliott. After killing her, the government says, Mr. Talik returned to his family for a getaway over Memorial Day weekend.
Mr. Deutsch, 31, of Freedom, Pa., has already pleaded guilty to being "an accessory after the fact." He hopes to receive a 15-year prison sentence in exchange for his testimony against Mr. Talik.
Had prosecutors charged Mr. Deutsch with direct invovlement in Ms. Elliott's killing, he could have spent the rest of his life in prison.
He will be one of about 30 witnesses against Mr. Talik, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McWilliams said during the conference with Judge Stamp. Prosecutors expect to spend a week putting on their case.
Mr. McWilliams said they may play taped interviews with Mr. Talik for the jury. In the days after Ms. Elliott disappeared, Mr. Talik professed his innocence. He even went to her parents' home to inquire as to her whereabouts, investigators said.
Lawyers will select a jury of 12 and as many as four alternates from a final pool of 64 West Virginians. Defense lawyers and prosecutors will choose the 64 from a group of hundreds of possible jurors who answered written questions about themselves and their feelings on capital punishment.
Each side will be able to dismiss up to 20 prospective jurors when questioning of the final 64 begins. Mr. McWilliams said Judge Stamp may handle all the questioning himself. By keeping the lawyers on the sidelines, the judge could speed up jury selection.
Mr. Talik is being represented by lawyers from Wheeling and Baltimore. They said they could not discuss the case, but their defense likely will focus on trying to impeach Mr. Deutsch.
He has admitted being "strung out on drugs" at the time of the killing. He also said he owed Mr. Talik money.
Mr. Deutsch, through his lawyer, said he is sorry for his role in Ms. Elliott's murder. But, he said, it was Mr. Talik who actually killed her.