A Wilmington man charged with fatally stabbing a New Castle County police officer has pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the crime.
Thirty-four-year-old David Salasky Jr. entered the plea Monday to first-degree murder in the slaying of 44-year-old Officer Joseph Szczerba (ZER-bah) in September 2011.
Salasky entered the plea as jury selection was under way in a trial. He faces an automatic sentence of two life terms plus an additional 153 years.
Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter did not immediately set a sentencing date.
Szczerba, an 18-year veteran, was stabbed after he caught up to Salasky during a foot chase. Szczerba was rushed to Christiana Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A judge last week denied several pretrial motions by the defense, including motions to suppress evidence and to preclude prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against a severely mentally ill defendant.
According to court records, Salasky has both a long criminal history and a history of mental health issues. Defense attorneys have suggested that he was delusional and high on mind-altering chemicals when Szczerba was killed.
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Two other officers were injured in the incident, but their injuries weren't life-threatening.
"It is a devastating loss to our department," said Cpl. John Weglarz. "Just like anywhere when they lose a brother or a sister."