A West Virginia man arrested Thursday in connection with a burglary ring that looted dozens of Pennsylvania businesses has links to a notorious group of killers in the Pittsburgh area.
James “Sonny” Watson, 67, was part of a nefarious gang linked to a highly publicized string of murders in the late 1970s that featured Robert “Codfish” Bricker of the North Side and William “Eggy” Prosdocimo of Greenfield. An Allegheny County jury convicted Watson of third-degree murder in 1982 for the shooting death of Norman McGregor of West Mifflin on his front porch.
“I think McGregor was the muscle man for some poker machines,” said retired Pittsburgh police Detective Skip Butler. “Sonny Watson was hiding under the bed when I arrested him.”
Watson was paroled in 2001 after serving 19 years in Pennsylvania, and then shipped to West Virginia where he stayed until his release in September 2005, prison records indicate. Officials could not be reached to explain his stint in the West Virginia prison.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. this week announced charges against Watson and four others for the burglary ring that spanned through Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties. Charleston, W.Va., police arrested Watson yesterday, said Zappala spokesman Mike Manko.
Watson faces six charges stemming from two of the burglaries. Accused ring leader Timothy Sunday, 47, of Etna is charged with 63 counts from 25 burglaries.
Butler, along with Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen and the late Detective Terry O’Leary, investigated several of the slayings connected to Bricker’s group.
“They called him the Codfish because he was so cold,” Mullen said. “He was connected to a lot of murders. They were from the Greenfield-Hazelwood area, and a lot of those guys ran together.”
Watson cut off his penis while he was in a West Virginia prison in the 1970s. He was shipped to a mental hospital for treatment and later escaped, Mullen and Butler said.
Watson then joined Bricker’s group of thugs, where he wanted to be a “big shot,” said Joseph Steele, 73, who prosecuted Watson’s case in 1982. Watson could have faced the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.
“They paid him some money to kill McGregor. It was a contract killing. I don’t think it was that much money. He was doing it to prove his bravado,” Steele said.
A fellow member of Bricker’s group implicated Watson in the shooting of a man mistakenly believed to be McGregor, said attorney Michael Healey, who defended Watson.
Healey said five defendants, including Watson and Bricker, were charged in connection with McGregor’s killing. Bricker died in prison in 2000. Prosdocimo is serving a life sentence.
“There was a whole series of contract killings. Watson was one of those guy implicated,” Healey said. “He was kind of a character. I got along with him.”
Bricker and Prosdocimo were convicted in the 1979 killing of Thomas Sacco of Dormont, said former Assistant District Attorney Jim Lees, who tried Bricker’s case.
“They were all part of drug distribution rings — young punks in the drug trade,” Lees said. “I think Watson was proud of that killing.”