Remains identified

James Edward Smith (left) and Damian Michael Staniszewski are shown in these undated file photos. Pennsylvania State Police announced on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, that the bodies of Smith and Staniszewski had been identified as those found by hunters on Sept. 29 in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County. The men had gone missing in March.

Two men with Columbus, Ohio, ties now face charges in the 2017 murder of two Portage-area men whose bodies were discovered dumped alongside Ligonier Pike in 2017.

The state Attorney General’s Office announced the charges Friday, saying Marekus Benson and Deandre Callender are Ohio-based East Main Money Gang members who conspired with two previously arrested defendants to kidnap and murder Damien Staniszewski and James Smith over a drug theft.

“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.”

Investigators have said Staniszewski and Smith purchased drugs from the gang in 2017 – and in March, they burglarized a stash house on Boyd Avenue in Johnstown, leaving with cash, drugs and a gun.

Once gang members found out, the men were kidnapped and tortured before being shot dead, state police said in 2018.

Samson Washington, 26, and Devon Wyrick, 24, both of Columbus, Ohio, are already waiting trial on homicide charges in the case. They are accused of gunning down the men in the Ligonier Pike area of Somerset County. 

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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