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Investigation ongoing in double homicide case

December 14, 2018

An investigation into a double homicide in Conemaugh Township last year is ongoing, authorities said Thursday.

During a press conference at the Somerset state police barracks, public information officer Cliff Greenfield said that the deaths of James Edward Smith, Portage, and Damian Michael Staniszewski, Duncansville, in a wooded area are still being investigated. Three men were charged in connection with their deaths Monday.

“It is clear to us that Mr. Smith and Mr. Staniszewski were together when they were kidnapped at a residence in the city of Johnstown, Cambria County. They were then taken against their will from that residence to Somerset county,” Greenfield said as he read prepared remarks.

“At that time they were led into a wooded area along Ligonier Pike, Conemaugh Township, at which time they were both shot and killed.”

The men were last seen together on March 26, 2017, and their bodies were discovered by hunters in late September 2017. On Monday, Samson Washington, 26, and Devon Wyrick, 24, both of Columbus, Ohio, were each charged with two counts of criminal homicide and related charges. A third man, David Bergmann, 39, Cresson, was charged with related offenses, including kidnapping and aggravated assault.

Authorities allege that Smith and Staniszewski stole a large quantity of drugs from a “stash” house in Johnstown, which belonged to Washington, who is known on the streets as “Squad.” That caused the men to be lured to a Johnstown home where they were beaten and tortured before being driven to Conemaugh Township and shot dead, according to police. The murders occurred on or about March 18 of that year.

Greenfield said he is not able to release details of who or how many people pulled the trigger.

“They are both facing homicide charges,” he said when asked if both Washington and Wyrick were shooters. “We’re not able to confirm that information right now.”

Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser called the investigation into the murders a “relentless pursuit for the truth.”

“This was a brutal, vicious double killing,” Lazzari-Strasiser said. “It wasn’t quick and it went across county lines, which even made it harder for us with regard to collaboration of agencies.”

She said that authorities believe there is still more information out there, and she encouraged anybody with knowledge of the crime to come forward.

“This is not done. It’s not stagnant. It continues to move forward,” she said. “We just sincerely hope that anyone out there that might be able to shed some more light on the events over the course of the last year and a half, that they would come forward.”

Washington is being held in the Somerset County Jail ahead of a scheduled 1 p.m. Dec. 19 preliminary hearing before District Judge Susan Mankamyer, of Boswell. Wyrick is in jail in Franklin County, Ohio, awaiting extradition to Somerset County. Bergmann is in the Cambria County Prison ahead of a tentative 9 a.m. Dec. 20 hearing before Mankamyer.

When asked if any additional charges are expected, Greenfield said he couldn’t directly answer the question.

“If new information would come to light, there certainly is a possibility of additional arrests being made,” he said. “Beyond that, I can’t comment right now.”

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