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Filming of TV show upsets family of murder victim

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 11:53 p.m.

A Tennessee-based television production company began filming on Wednesday in Fayette County for an episode of the cable documentary series, “Snapped.”

Jupiter Entertainment's decision to feature the case of Catherine Marie Hamborsky of Upper Tyrone, a former secretary at the closed state prison in Hempfield, is not sitting well with the family of the man she murdered.

Hamborsky, 49, is serving up to 24 years in prison for the Jan. 4, 2005, shooting and stabbing of bartender Thomas Lesniak.

“We are very, very upset,” said his brother, Joseph “Joe” Lesniak, 66. “It just brings it all back up. I've been sick ever since.”

Lesniak's severely burned body was discovered inside his brother's tavern, J.J.'s Restaurant and Bar in Upper Tyrone, after Hamborsky torched it. A jury in 2006 convicted her of third-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and arson.

Hamborsky claimed she acted in self-defense when Lesniak, 52, of Melcroft allegedly attacked her and demanded sexual favors. Witnesses said Hamborsky played video poker at the bar on the night before the murder, when she argued with Lesniak over money.

“Snapped,” a series in its 11th season that recounts cases of women accused of murder, airs on NBC's Oxygen Network.

Lesniak said Jupiter Entertainment last week contacted him and Thomas Lesniak's daughter, Faith, about the show. Neither intends to grant an interview.

“I think it's wrong, if the victim's family objects to it,” Lesniak said. “I don't see how they can glorify her. She ruined a lot of lives. A lot of lives.”

Sharon Martin, the show's narrator and supervising producer, said the network is sensitive to his concerns.

“These are never easy cases,” she said. “It's always difficult for the victim's family. We just try to be as sensitive as possible as we move through the case.”

Martin said the show looks for “a little bit of intrigue,” which applies to Hamborsky's case.

“These are women you would meet in the grocery store. They are ordinary women who commit a crime,” Martin said.

The company has contacted others connected to the case.

State police Trooper David Bell, who filed the charges against Hamborsky, said he has not received permission to grant an interview.

Michelle Kelley, a member of the prosecution team at trial, said she and another assistant district attorney, Anthony Iannamorelli, likely will film a segment next week. Iannamorelli handled one of Hamborsky's appeals.

Nancy Vernon, the former district attorney who led the prosecution, declined comment on whether the show has contacted her. She is a Fayette County judge.

Stanton D. Levenson, a Pittsburgh attorney who represented Hamborsky in several failed appeals, said he filmed a segment for the show on Thursday.

“What upsets me about the case is the substantial possibility I represented a woman serving a 10- to 20-year sentence for killing a man who was already dead,” Levenson said.

Levenson said a Maryland medical examiner, hired after Hamborsky's trial, found evidence indicating Lesniak, who had a heart condition and traces of cocaine in his system, was dead before Hamborsky shot him.

“If he had been living at the time he was shot, there should have been blood in the five (bullet) track wounds,” Levenson said. “There was not a drop of blood, indicating … the man was dead when he was shot. But that was never presented to the jury.”

Hamborsky's family has decided not to file more appeals, he said.

Hamborsky, who is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Cambridge Springs, Crawford County, is not likely to appear on the show. Sue McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said visitors are not allowed to bring recording devices, including cameras, into prisons.

Hamborsky can meet with a producer if she places the person's name on her visiting list, McNaughton said. The only tools a producer could use to record the interview would be pen and paper.

Filming is expected to continue through Nov. 15. The episode is tentatively scheduled to air in May.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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