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Two arrested in ’17 homicide case

Five face charges in deaths of two Portage residents

Two additional people have been arrested in connection with a 2017 double homicide in Somerset County, the state Attorney General’s office said.

Marekus Benson and Deandre Callender face several charges for conspiring with two previously arrested members of the Ohio-based East Main Money Gang to kidnap and murder Portage residents Damien Staniszewski and James Smith.

“Drug trafficking is a dangerous and violent enterprise,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Two men were murdered so these East Main Money Gang members could continue to operate and profit while bringing poison into Pennsylvania communities.”

The bodies of Staniszewski, 19, and Smith, 32, were discovered by a hunter Sept. 29, 2017, near Ligonier Pike in Conemaugh Township.

State police said Staniszewski and Smith purchased drugs from the gang in March 2017 and burglarized the gang’s stash house on Boyd Avenue in Johnstown, stealing large amounts of drugs and money.

After members of the gang found out, Staniszewski and Smith were kidnapped and tortured before eventually being shot dead, state police said.

A black 2011 GMC Sierra truck owned by Staniszewski’s grandparents was recovered by the Conemaugh Township Police Department on March 28, 2017.

According to the criminal complaint, three live rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, two .40-caliber spent casings and one .32-caliber spent casing were recovered at the crime scene.

A continuing study of the victims indicated they also may have suffered other gunshots wounds and serious bodily injuries prior to and potentially at the time of their deaths, including blunt force trauma to the head, a broken femur and a gunshot wound to the chest.

Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller ruled both deaths homicides.

Benson faces charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint and possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, selling or transferring firearms, according to court documents.

Callender faces charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping and unlawful restraint.

Five people have now been arrested in connection to the case.

Samson Washington, 26, and Devon Wyrick, 24, both of Columbus, Ohio, were arrested Dec. 10, 2018, for homicide, kidnapping and numerous other charges.

Joshua Bergmann, 42, of Cresson was also charged with kidnapping and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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