Two from Ohio sentenced to life in prison in 2017 murders of Portage, Duncansville men

Jan. 10—SOMERSET, Pa. — Two Ohio gang members who witnesses said shot two local men dead in 2017 were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Samson Washington, 30, and Marekus Benson, 32, were handed the sentence without parole, after a jury found them guilty last fall of kidnapping and torturing James Smith, of Portage, and Damian Staniszewski, of Duncansville.

The case became a homicide investigation after the bodies of Smith, 32, and Staniszewski, 19, were found dumped in a wooded area near Ligonier Pike in 2017.

A fellow gang member and conspirator, Devon Wyrick, 27, received 21 years for his role, a reduced punishment due to his cooperation in the case.

Wyrick opted to testify on behalf of the prosecution in the multi-day trial in October.

Smith and Staniszewski had allegedly robbed a "stash house" in Johnstown's 8th Ward used by the defendants.

Prosecutors said the conspirators were members of the Columbus-based East Main Money Gang and discovered the pair stole their cash.

Wyrick testified that he was with Washington and Benson when they used Staniszewski's truck to transport the victims to the site of their murders, where they took Smith into the woods, but forgot Staniszewski in the truck.

Wyrick said Benson shot Smith in the back when he tried to run. He testified that when they realized Staniszewski was still in the truck, they brought him to where Smith was, and Washington shot them both in the head twice.

Somerset County Judge Scott Bittner presided over the case.

Along with his sentence Friday, he also ordered the men to reimburse the costs for the funerals of Staniszewski and Smith.

Benson and Samson were also sentenced to spend decades in prison for related crimes, including kidnapping, conspiracy and aggravated assault. Those sentences will run concurrent to their life imprisonment penalties.