Pair charged with '01 killing

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It's been "a very painful nine years" since Sonya Helmantoler has spoken to her brother, Jerry Lee Cushey Jr., who loved poetry almost as much as his family.

He vanished without a trace in October 2001.

On Tuesday, his Washington County family finally got some of the answers they've spent years seeking, from clairvoyants and psychics to frustrated police and private investigators.

A county grand jury investigating Mr. Cushey's disappearance concluded that the 29-year-old from Monongahela was shot to death and his body disposed of by two cohorts over a drug debt.

The grand jury recommended that charges be brought against two men.

On Tuesday, Michael Ronald Curran, 30, of Elizabeth, and Christopher James Myers, 40, of Connellsville, Fayette County, were each charged with homicide and conspiracy. They remain jailed without bond.

The grand jury used one of Mr. Cushey's poems as an introduction to a 16-page presentment unsealed Tuesday, which provides details of its eight-month investigation:

Where did I go wrong?

Never wanted to hurt no one.

No excuse for the things I've done.

Only wanted to be someone.

Wanted friends and a little fun.

The investigation was triggered by a state police cold case unit, whose members asked Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani to explore the use of a grand jury to compel testimony in the difficult case.

Through the testimony of "numerous witnesses, hundreds of pages of investigative material and evidence," grand jurors surmised that Mr. Cushey was killed on the night of Oct. 12, 2001 near the Monongahela Aquatorium.

His body has not been recovered.

A then-17-year-old witness, Samantha Chew, told police she saw Mr. Curran shoot Mr. Cushey twice before fleeing the scene.

She said Mr. Cushey had been to Mr. Curran's mobile home in Rostraver, Westmoreland County, earlier in the evening, where he used cocaine with Mr. Curran and others.

Ms. Chew told investigators that Mr. Curran and Mr. Cushey argued over a drug debt that Mr. Cushey owed Mr. Myers.

Days before, Mr. Cushey and Mr. Myers agreed to rent an apartment together after a chance meeting on the street in Monongahela.

The grand jury concluded that the pair, estranged over the years, rented an apartment on Second and Main Street in Monongahela above Mr. Myers' tattoo shop and almost immediately began a cocaine dealing business, with Mr. Myers as the primary investor and Mr. Cushey delivering and selling drugs in area bars.

"As drug sales increased, so did friction between Myers and Cushey," the presentment said.

Mr. Myers complained to friends that Mr. Cushey owed thousands of dollars for cocaine because he was using the drugs. Through witness testimony, grand jurors concluded that Mr. Cushey also owed Mr. Curran drug money.

In the days before Mr. Cushey disappeared, records show that Mr. Myers tried to solicit fellow drug dealers to help him kidnap and beat Mr. Cushey.

Jurors theorize that Mr. Myers disposed of Mr. Cushey's body.

A van belonging to Mr. Myers was found several days after Mr. Cushey's disappearance down an embankment near Cheat Lake in West Virginia, with the accelerator lodged in place by a piece of wood. A tree kept the van from slipping into the body of water.

Mr. Myers' actions after Mr. Cushey's disappearance were suspect as well.

Mr. Myers is accused of calling state police and Cushey family members impersonating Mr. Cushey, and falsely accusing Mr. Cushey of stealing his van.

According to the presentment, after he was confronted by police, Mr. Myers blamed Mr. Cushey's death on Mr. Curran.

Mr. Myers was arrested in November 2004 and charged with tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. For six years, Mr. Myers had continued to mislead investigators after promising to assist in their investigation, the grand jury said, calling his cooperation "cursory and distinctly unhelpful."

He has remained out on bail since his arrest, and his case has been continued 16 times.

Flanked by law enforcement officials during a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Cushey's family said they were thankful to finally have some resolution to the case.

"We have pushed and pushed to get here today," said Ms. Helmantolar, who along with other family members assisted police in the search for evidence.

Police said reluctant witnesses who previously refused to testify were convinced by Mr. Cushey's family to cooperate with the grand jury.

"Jerry has always been with us. I promised him as a big sister that I would never give up on him," said a tearful Ms. Helmantoler.

"This has been a very difficult case," said Mr. Toprani.

Mr. Toprani said investigators will continue to search for Mr. Cushey's remains. Searchers have previously combed the Monongahela River, Cheat Lake and other locations.

He said that although Mr. Cushey was trying to turn his life around, he could not rid himself of the worst influences in his life.

"Mr. Cushey's own relationships may have contributed to his demise."


Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com ; 724-223-0156.


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