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Troopers charge trio for 2017 deaths of 2 men discovered in Somerset County woods |

Troopers charge trio for 2017 deaths of 2 men discovered in Somerset County woods

| Thursday, December 13, 2018 2:33 p.m
Hunters found the bodies of James E. Smith, 32, of Portage, Cambria County, (left), and Damian M. Staniszewski, 19, of Duncansville, Blair County, in wooded area of rural Somerset county on Sept. 29, 2017.Hunters found the bodies of James E. Smith, 32, of Portage, Cambria County, (left), and Damian M. Staniszewski, 19, of Duncansville, Blair County, in wooded area of rural Somerset county on Sept. 29, 2017.

State police in Somerset allege that the theft of $17,000 and “a large amount “ of narcotics from a suspected Johnstown drug dealer led to a conspiracy to kill two men whose bodies were discovered by a hunter in rural Somerset County in September 2017.

State troopers this week charged Samson Washington, 26, and Devon Wyrick, 24, both of Columbus, Ohio, with homicide, kidnapping, and multiple related charges and Joshua Bermann, 39, of Cresson, with kidnapping and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault in connection with the deaths of Damian Staniszewski, 19, of Duncansville, Blair County, and James Smith, 32, of Portage, Cambria County, according court documents filed with Boswell District Judge Susan Mankamyer.

A hunter found the men’s remains on Sept. 29, 2017, in a wooded area around Ligonier Pike in Conemaugh Township in rural Somerset County. An autopsy found that both men had been shot in the head and suffered blunt force trauma, court records state.

According to the complaints filed this week by Trooper Scott Kemerer, authorities believe Staniszewski and Smith burglarized a “stash house” in Johnstown allegedly run by Washington where he kept a large amount of money and narcotics. Kemerer said investigators used multiple informants during the investigation.

The complaint alleges Washington suspected Staniszewski and Smith of committing the theft and later told acquaintances “he was robbed of $17,000 cash, his drugs and eventually had to kill (Staniszewski and Smith).”

The informants allege Washington instructed associates to lure the pair to Washington’s residence in Cambria County for a purported drug transaction on March 26, 2017, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

It is believed that Staniszewski and Smith were held hostage and tortured before they were driven to the wooded area where their bodies were found, court records state.

An informant whose name is not listed in court documents told investigators that they “observed Staniszewski and Smith in the basement of (Washington’s house).”

“(The informant) confirmed Staniszewski and Smith were stripped to their boxers and on their knees in a backroom in the basement,” the complaint states.

According to court documents, the informant identified Washington, also known as “Squad,” and his associate, Wyrick, also known as “Q,” as the only other individuals present. Bermann is accused of being involved in the conspiracy to kidnap the pair.

When state police announced the discovery of the bodies in 2017, they said the two men were last seen at Smith’s home on the afternoon of their disappearance. Two days later, Conemaugh Township police located a vehicle known to be driven by Staniszewski along Somerset Pike.

Wyrick and Washington, who is being held in the Somerset County Jail, were both charged with two counts each of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal use of a communication facility and unlawful restraint. Wyrick is being held in the Franklin County, Ohio, jail.

Bergmann was charged with aggravated assault, criminal use of a communication facility and two counts each of kidnapping and criminal conspiracy. He is not in custody.

According to online documents, charges of criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy filed against Washington’s girlfriend, Jasmine Browning, 24, of Galloway, Ohio, have been dropped. Browning was arrested in April in connection with the disappearances.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

Categories: Regional
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