Two more men charged in 2017 Somerset County double homicide, appear in court today

Local News

SOMERSET, Pa. (WTAJ) — Two additional men face charges for their alleged involvement in the 2017 double homicide case, both appearing in court today.

The Office of Attorney General charged Deandre Callender, 27, and Marekus Benson, 30, with multiple felony counts relating to criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping and prohibited possession of a firearm.

Callender was scheduled for arraignment this morning in Somerset County while Benson was arraigned Friday night, according to online court documents.

Both are suspects in the killing of 19-year-old Damien Staniszewski and 32-year-old James Edward Smith.

Other suspects include Devon Wyrick, 24, of Columbus, who was extradited from Ohio two years ago and charged. Samson Washington, 28 was also charged two years ago. Both are awaiting trial.

The four men all belonged to the East Main Money Gang, which stemmed from Ohio, according to the criminal complaint. In 2014, they opened a stash house at the 1000 block of Boyd Avenue in Johnstown, and they shared a burner phone used for drug deals.

It’s reported that Staniszewski and Smith were drug users from Portage that would purchase from the gang members, the complaint said.

A witness told officials that on March 26, 2017, the victims robbed the stash house and stole a large sum of drugs, money and a gun.

A secondary witness said she noticed the victims were in possession of a large number of drugs the day of the burglary, and she relayed this information to another man March 27.

On March 27, the gang members discovered the burglary and started contacting different drug users trying to figure out who had stolen from them.

Washington and Wyrick contacted the man who the second witness had given her suspicions to about the burglary.

He met with Washington and Wyrick in Johnstown, and he told them he believed Staniszewskia and Smith had committed the burglary, according to charges filed. He even offered to lead them to Prospect Street in Portage where the victims lived.

At 2:20 p.m., it’s reported a resident of the neighborhood called police and said a white Jeep Liberty with a PA registration was slowly driving past his house in addition to a Pontiac Torrent with an Ohio registration, and they were circling the block a few times.

He also told police he was aware of the drug activity on the 800 block of Prospect Street involving the victims.

During the investigation, cell phone records were obtained. The drug phone and Callender’s phone pinged off of cell towers near the victims’ house.

The victims later called the shared drug phone, and the gang members arranged a fake drug deal between Washington, Wyrick and the victims.

Washington and Wyrick to met the victims at the Galleria Mall. The victims were then driven to the stash house.

The man who had told the gang members where the victims lived went to the stash house during this time and met with Washington and Wyrick to “clear his name” in the burglary.

He saw the victims in the basement, stripped down to their boxers and on their knees. Washington and Wyrick told him that they didn’t get their stuff back from the victims.

The man then left the residence, and Wyrick told him, “Say goodbye. You will not see these guys.”

Investigators pinged the victims’ cell phones, which showed they were last used was around 9 p.m. at the stash house March 27.

At the first witness’ house, they told police that Washington, Wyrick and Benson returned from the stash house. When they arrived, they all changed clothes.

Washington told this witness everything that happened. He said that Benson, Washington and Wyrick shot the victims in the woods. They ran out of the woods toward the White Jeep Liberty, and while running, Benson tripped and dropped his gun, which he left behind.

From pinging the shared drug phone at around 11 p.m., it proved it was in the area where the skeletal remains of the victims were later found Sept. 29.

The remains were located along Ligonier Pike in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County. There were also three live rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, two .40 caliber cartridge casings and one .32 caliber cartridge casing.

The remains were examined at Mercyhurst University, and they confirmed the identities of Staniszewski and Smith. They deemed their primary cause of death as gunshot wounds to the head as well as other gunshot wounds and serious bodily injuries prior to the time of death. Other bodily injuries they sustained included blunt force trauma to the head, a broken femur and a gunshot wound to the chest.

Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller determined that the manner of death was a homicide.

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