Homicide charges held to court in Conemaugh Township double shooting
Two men will go to trial on double homicide charges in connection with the shooting deaths of James Smith, of Portage, and Damian Staniszewski, of Duncansville, in March 2017. The crime crossed county lines and involved kidnapping and torture, according to law enforcement authorities. Devon Wyrick, 24, of Columbus, Ohio, and Samson Washington, 26, of Johnstown, are accused of torturing the two men in the basement of a Johnstown house and then taking them to a wooded area along Ligonier Pike in Conemaugh Township and shooting them to death.
Smith and Staniszewski allegedly stole a large quantity of drugs and money from a “stash” house in Johnstown, which belonged to Washington, also known as “Squad.” Wyrick worked with Washington, who was known on the street as “Q,” according to police.
A third man tied to the case, Joshua Bergmann, 39, of Cresson, testified Friday at Washington and Wyrick’s preliminary hearing.
He testified that when he found out on March 27, 2017, from a family member that Smith and Staniszewski had an unusually large amount of drugs, that information led him to call “Squad.” He said he bought drugs from “Squad” and knew him through his friend Smith. He testified that he did not know Washington and Wyrick by their real names, so during his testimony he referred to them by their nicknames.
He said he asked Washington why his friend and Staniszewski had the drugs and not him. Washington asked him to come to a house in Moxham that he shared with his girlfriend. Bergmann went to talk to Washington and Wyrick that morning and received free drugs and a thank you for the information, he said.
“I went home and I did the drugs,” Bergmann said. “I was getting ready for bed when I got a phone call from Wyrick.”
Wyrick told him that Smith said Bergmann was part of the robbery and that he needed to drop by a second house where the “stash” was kept.
Bergmann said he went there. Washington let him in, and he went into a small room in the basement where he saw Smith and Staniszewski in their boxer shorts on the floor. He said he approached his friend and slapped him because he was angry that Smith had implicated him in the robbery.
“I thought this would take care of it,” he said. “The drugs would come back and this would be over.”
While in the basement, he saw someone he couldn’t identify with a gun. He went back and forth under cross-examination about the possibility of Wyrick having a gun.
As he was leaving the house, he was again given drugs for free, and he went to a friend’s house and consumed them, Bergmann testified.
He said he continued to buy drugs from Washington and Wyrick for about two months thereafter until the pair would no longer answer his calls. Bergmann testified Friday that he used drugs for 15 years, but was no longer doing so.
Washington and Wyrick appeared alert and inquisitive as they sat shackled in orange jumpsuits during the 3-1/2 hour preliminary hearing before District Judge Bill Seger of Windber in the Somerset County Courthouse.
Washington’s defense attorney, George W. Bills Jr. of Pittsburgh, and Wyrick’s defense attorney, Sally Frick of Pittsburgh, argued that prosecutors had not tied the pair to the slaying at the hearing, but Seger ruled there was enough evidence presented for the prosecutor to meet the “low bar” of a prima facie case.
To reach that bar, the prosecution has to prove that a crime was committed and the defendant likely did it.
Seger forwarded the case to the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas for trial. The pair is scheduled to appear in court again on April 29 for formal arraignment.
The only other witness called to the stand during Friday’s hearing was state police criminal investigator Scott Kemerer.
He testified that law enforcement became involved in the case when family members of Smith and Staniszewski filed missing persons reports within days of their disappearance. Police found an abandoned vehicle identified by Smith’s and Staniszewski’s families as the one the two men were last seen in together about a half-mile from where their remains would be discovered by a hunter the following September.
Washington and Wyrick are charged with homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal use of a communication facility and unlawful restraint.
Bergmann is charged with aggravated assault, kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap, but not homicide. He was formally arraigned on the charges Tuesday in county court. He is free on an unsecured $250,000 bond awaiting a court appearance on April 15. His defense attorney is William Carroll of Somerset.