The father of Washington & Jefferson College football player Timothy McNerney, who was killed during a robbery near campus last fall, said he didn’t want to “torture” himself with hope police would crack the case with so few clues.
“I didn’t want to torture myself knowing how difficult it was to prove,” Robert McNerney of Butler said Wednesday after three men were ordered to stand trial in Washington County Court following surprise arrests last week in his son’s homicide. He wore his son’s high school game day necktie bearing the words “Knoch 5” to court.
District Judge Robert Redlinger earlier Wednesday ordered there was sufficient evidence to order a trial for Eric Donte Wells, 24, of Pittsburgh, Adam R. Hankins, 23, of Washington, and Troy LaMonte Simmons Jr., 23, of East Pittsburgh, on charges of homicide, robbery, theft,and conspiracy at the hearing in Central Court. Hankins and Simmons, who both have ties to Washington, also were each held on a charge of aggravated assault in the attack of Zach DeCicco, another W&J football player, who was walking back to campus from a Washington tavern with McNerney, 21, of Butler, the morning of the homicide.
The suspects were arrested Aug. 7, and police have yet to say what led detectives to them in a case largely under seal.
Defense attorneys attempted to draw evidence from witnesses that the five men had some type of argument before a fight broke out about 2:30 a.m. at South College and East Maiden streets. But, the evidence pointed strictly to the students being approached by one of the suspects wanting to steal a cellphone.
DeCicco said he was struck in the head and suffered other blows as he fell to the ground after three men walked toward him and one said, “Give me your cellphone.”
He said he managed to get up after about 20 seconds and didn’t witness what happened to his friend.
“I just ran away,” said DeCicco, who suffered a broken nose in the assault.
He said he went for his roommates and contacted campus police. A group of his friends later found McNerney unconscious and his cellphone missing in a vehicle repair shop parking lot where the assault took place.
Washington County Coroner Tim Warco testified McNerney died of trauma to the back of the head, having also suffered a fractured skull and hemorrhaging. The victim’s blood-alcohol content measured 0.189, Warco said.
City police accused Wells of striking the blow that led to McNerney’s death. The other two suspects allegedly confessed to assaulting DeCicco.
At some point Wells ended up with McNerney’s cellphone, which had a GPS that led police to houses in the area where he once lived.
Wells’ attorney, Peter Marcoline III of Washington, said homicide is the appropriate charge in the case and that it would be up to a jury to decide the level at trial. He said there was no evidence produced at the hearing that Wells was involved in a conspiracy or ever threatened to steal anything.
“It was five young men who met in a parking lot, including two W&J students who had been drinking all night. It was clear Mr. DeCicco has a foggy memory,” Marcoline said.
“I have never seen a client more remorseful,” he said.
Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone said he couldn’t comment on the case because it’s still under investigation.
“This is a tragic death of a young man. It’s rather difficult,” Vittone said.