Stolen iPhone led police to McNerney homicide suspect
Troy Simmons Jr.
Investigators used a global-positioning system to trace a cellphone stolen from a Washington & Jefferson College football player the night he was robbed and killed last year to two residences where one of the suspects in the case once lived.
Court records show police tracked the iPhone stolen from homicide victim Timothy McNerney, 21, of Butler, to the former Washington home of Eric Dante Wells, 24, now of Pittsburgh, who was arrested in the case along with two other men Tuesday night. That leg of the investigation also placed the phone at 1151 Robinson Highway, McDonald, where Wells lived Oct. 4, 2012, when McNerney was found dead of head trauma near the W&J campus, the affidavit shows.
Also arrested Tuesday in the case were Adam R. Hankins, 23, of 348 Houston St., Washington, and Troy LaMonte Simmons Jr., 23, of 521 Bessemer Ave., East Pittsburgh. All three suspects were charged with homicide, theft, robbery and conspiracy and lodged in Washington County Jail without bond.
Police on Aug. 6 interviewed Wells and Hankins, and both suspects allegedly said Simmons was with them about 2:20 a.m. at the time of the attack on McNerney and his friend, Zach DeCicco of Jefferson Hills, as the two walked back to campus from a local tavern.
Police accuse Wells of striking McNerney once, knocking him to the ground and rendering him unconscious when he fell onto a hard surface, striking the back of his head. Wells allegedly confessed to burning the clothes he and Hankins wore that night. Hankins was accused of striking DeCicco and throwing the player to the ground, the record states.
DeCicco, who also played for the W&J Presidents at the time, managed to flee after suffering a broken nose and multiple bruises and abrasions in the assault, the affidavit states. He notified campus police and returned with friends to search for McNerney, finding his body at the corner of South College and East Maiden streets. McNerney’s wallet also was stolen that night.
Police said Tuesday they didn’t believe the suspects intended to have the robbery end in a homicide. Police have released few other details in the case, beyond saying several houses were raided Tuesday as part of the investigation.
Much of the court record in the case, including the affidavits supporting search warrants, is under seal by order of a Washington County judge, the county district attorney’s office said.
Wells has had a string of arrests in Washington County for minor offense including possession of small amounts of marijuana, unauthorized use of an automobile and criminal mischief. He never received a sentence harsher than probation. There were two prior cases involving Hankins in Washington County for driving under the influence of alcohol and trespassing. Simmons does not have a criminal history at the courthouse, court records indicate.
W&J students have expressed relief arrests have been made in the homicide, said Alex Baroffio, a senior wide receiver on the college football team who played with McNerney.
“I am surprised and relieved,” said Baroffio, adding teammates and students have been saying they are happy about the arrests.
He said he didn’t realize city police were putting so much effort into the investigation.
“So they kept it quiet.”
His coach, Mike Sirianni, said it has been a “trying time” at the small college with about 1,600 students.
“I think we all got a little bit of closure with this,” Sirianni said Wednesday.
McNerney’s father, Robert, could not be reached Wednesday.
He thanked law enforcement on his Twitter feed “for bringing Tim’s killers to justice.”
“This outpouring of support has been tremendously uplifting for our family. We love all of you for loving him,” Robert McNerney wrote on Twitter.
Karen Oosterhous, W&J’s director of communication, said the school has seen a small drop in local enrollment it attributes to the homicide.
“However, counter to the national trend, our admissions from outside the local area remain robust,” Oosterhous said.
“We hope that these arrests will provide the wider community with some measure of comfort so that we can return our focus to providing our students with the quality education W&J is known for.”
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano and staff writer Emily Petsko contributed to this report.