The December 2007 slaying of Aarron Masters was never a cold case. New Brighton police said they knew who was responsible shortly after the 23-year-old was robbed and shot inside his apartment, but lacked the evidence needed for the arrests of three people until Tuesday.
Police didn't have enough information as recently as Easter, when two of the suspects were charged with attempting to kill another Beaver County man, police Chief Charles Vanfossan said.
"It wasn't a cold case, but a long one," he said, in which detectives conducted hundreds of interviews and traveled across county and state lines. The chief wouldn't say what finally prompted the charges or what role each of the suspects played, only that the trio conspired to kill Mr. Masters.
Travon Cleckley, 19, of Beaver Falls, and John Creach, 27, and Nikia Boyd, 29, both of New Brighton, were arraigned Tuesday on charges of conspiracy, robbery and homicide.
The chief and Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh offered few glimpses into the slaying during a news conference. They wouldn't say how the suspects knew each other, but a criminal complaint says Mr. Creach and Mr. Cleckley are cousins. Police said the trio apparently had no relationship to Mr. Masters, who was found dead of a gunshot wound to the neck inside the Valley View Gardens apartments on Fifth Avenue in New Brighton.
At the scene, police spoke with Ms. Boyd, who told them that she went to Mr. Masters' apartment to see if her cousin had "left anything for her" with Mr. Masters, according to an affidavit supporting her arrest. Ms. Boyd talked to Mr. Masters for a few minutes just inside his closed apartment door. A woman who was with her told detectives that just before two men entered Mr. Masters' building, she saw Ms. Boyd look at her cell phone and abruptly leave.
As Ms. Boyd opened the door, a gunman entered and demanded everyone inside drop to the floor, according to the complaint. Mr. Masters, witnesses said, was shot as he put his hands up and began to lower himself to the floor. Several people inside the apartment said they heard the gunman asking "where's the money at?" and saw him run into a bedroom. Police said he stole a woman's purse at gunpoint before leaving the room.
The affidavit doesn't explain how each suspect was involved, but notes inconsistencies in Ms. Boyd's description of the night to detectives. Detectives also discovered she deleted several calls from her cell phone log that were made just before police were called to the scene. Ms. Boyd told police that the calls were to a cell phone Mr. Creach was using.
Another witness, Jessica Fabio, told police that she and her boyfriend, Mr. Cleckley, went to Mr. Creach's apartment the same day, according to the complaint. Mr. Creach suggested they go to "the projects in New Brighton," and gave her instructions on where to park her car while he and Mr. Cleckley went inside. She said she watched them go inside and come out 10 minutes later, saying they had "just robbed some dude," the complaint says.
Mr. Creach's girlfriend, Angela Alford, told police she too waited outside in her vehicle for Mr. Creach, who jumped inside and excitedly told her that "he just shot a kid for pulling a gun on Travon Cleckley," the complaint says.
A preliminary hearing for the suspects is scheduled for June 3.
Sadie Gurman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878.