Life in prison for man accused of murdering Delaware officer

 Lt. Joseph Szczerba (file/NewsWorks)

Lt. Joseph Szczerba (file/NewsWorks)

The man accused of fatally stabbing a New Castle County police officer more than 2 years ago will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

New Castle County Superior Court Judge William Carpenter sentenced David Salasky to two consecutive life terms plus 157 years for the 2011 stabbing death of Lieutenant Joseph Szczerba of the New Castle County Police Department.

Salasky pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first degree murder and 15 additional felony charges last September.

The plea deal with prosecutors spared Salasky from the death penalty and spared the Szczerba family from sitting through a jury trial.

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Medical reports diagnosed Salasky with mental illness. He was also high on bath salts at the time of the Sept. 16, 2011 stabbing.  The Delaware legislature passed a law banning the sale and use of bath salts after his death.

During sentencing, Lt. Szczerba’s wife Kathy spoke for several minutes about how her husband’s death has changed her life.

The Szczerba’s were married for 20 years and Kathy said she spent more than half of her life with Joe who she described as a “caring, handsome, non-judgmental husband” who was a handyman around the house and loved to care for animals.

She said the media attention following her husband’s death became such a distraction that it was hard for her to grieve or go out in public without someone wanting to talk about the worst day of her life.

“My life has been shattered by the murder of my cherished husband,” said Kathy to the packed courtroom.

She said sentencing essentially places a value on human life and that “Joe was irreplaceable.”

Colonel Elmer Setting, chief of the New Castle County Police Department, was Szczerba’s patrol commander at the time of the incident and said talking about Szczerba is personally difficult.

“Joe Szczerba was a hero every day, every day,” said Setting. “He cared about everyone else but himself and he stood for justice and to lose him was an unbelievable hole that will never be filled again and I’ll never forget him, not in my time, not in my life.”

Following the sentencing, Setting said he felt justice was served.

“What I would say is that when you are going to make the conscious decision to kill a protector of the people of this state, there will be justice,” said Setting. “Even though there’s no death penalty, and the intent to hide behind mental illness, the judge recognized that Joe was a hero and that Salasky was a monster that does not belong among the other people in society.”

Steven Wood, deputy attorney general for the Delaware Department of Justice said his office was satisfied with the sentencing.

“There are three things that we know for sure at the end of this prosecution; one is that the defendant was completely and solely responsible for the murder of Joseph Sczerba. Number two is that he had a long-standing history of mental illness and number three is that he was high on bath salts at the time of the crime. Given all of those things, this is an appropriate outcome.”

Szczerba, an 18-year veteran of the department, was the first New Castle County police officer killed in the line of duty in nearly 40 years.

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