The father of a Washington & Jefferson College football player who was beaten to death last year said he's relieved that the men who allegedly killed his son will face justice, 10 months after his son's death.
"I have a sense of relief," said Robert McNerney, father of Tim McNerney. "Any news about Tim is both sad and good, because it brings back memories of him."
Washington police and members of the Washington County District Attorney's office on Tuesday announced the arrests of three men in connection with the killing in October.
Dr. McNerney, an internist from Butler, commended police for cooperating through multiple jurisdictions to secure the arrests.
"I'm gratified that the police were diligent," he said. "It's a wonderful thing that they captured his killers."
Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone said his office and the Washington police received assistance from numerous agencies, including Pennsylvania State Police, Washington County Adult Probation, Pleasant Hills police and a task force from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"It was really phenomenal that it all came together the way it did," he said. "We had help from so many quarters. It's great when it all comes together like that."
Washington police theorize that 24-year-old Eric Wells of Penn Hills, 23-year-old Adam R. Hankins of Washington and 23-year-old Troy Lamonte Simmons Jr. of East Pittsburgh had intended to rob Mr. McNerney, 21, and his friend Zachary DeCicco, 22, of Jefferson Hills, as the students walked back to campus after a night of bar hopping along Washington's Main Street in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2012.The students fought back and the confrontation turned deadly when Mr. Wells hit Mr. McNerney, shoving him backward and rendering him unconscious.
Mr. DeCicco escaped with a broken nose, grabbed his phone and "fled as fast as he could," Washington police Lt. Dan Stanek said, to get help for his friend. But it was too late.
Mr. McNerney was found unresponsive about an hour later in a darkened corner of an automotive repair shop parking lot, just a block from the campus. He was pronounced dead at the Washington Hospital a short time later. An autopsy determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the back of the head.
Police reported little movement in the case since then, although they were busy tracking leads, including a GPS trail left by Mr. McNerney's iPhone, which was stolen from him that night, along with his wallet.
While police are keeping details of the case close to the vest, they said they were led to the suspects through the phone's GPS system, which indicated that the phone was near the Houston Street home of Mr. Hankins and the McDonald house where Mr. Wells was staying at the time.
When police confronted Mr. Wells and Mr. Hankins at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Fayette County on Tuesday, they admitted their roles in the crime, including that Mr. Wells shoved McNerney to the ground and later disposed of clothing that he and Hankins wore, along with McNerney's iPhone.
"It was only in the past few weeks that a break occurred in this case," Mr. Vittone said at a late Tuesday news conference.
Mr. Wells, who tried to use Mr. McNerney's credit card at a nearby convenience store, and Mr. Hankins implicated Mr. Simmons during the interview, according to police, saying that he participated in the assault.
All three were arraigned Tuesday in front of District Judge Robert Redlinger and lodged in the Washington jail without bond. Mr. Wells' family members declined comment, and family members for the other defendants could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Wells faces charges of criminal homicide, robbery, theft and criminal conspiracy. Mr. Simmons and Mr. Hankins face those same charges, plus one count each of aggravated assault.
Police said during the interview that Mr. Hankins acknowledged that he struck Mr. DeCicco and threw him to the ground.
College officials said they were relieved to hear about the arrests.
"The Washington & Jefferson College community welcomed today's developments in the Tim McNerney case," said a statement released by the school Tuesday evening. "The arrests made today are the result of a tireless effort by the police and district attorney in the city of Washington. We thank them for their dedication to ensuring the safety of our community. Our thoughts continue to be with the McNerney family during this difficult time."
Mr. McNerney, a popular student and senior running back for W&J, was remembered by hundreds of people who gathered for a candlelight vigil in the days after his death. An annual golf outing benefiting a scholarship in his honor is planned for Aug. 31 at Village Green Golf Course in Mt. Pleasant, Washington County.
More information on the Tim McNerney Scholarship Fund Golf Outing is available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-413-5011. First Published August 7, 2013 4:00 AM