Two men ordered to trial in Clymer shooting death
CLYMER — Two Glen Campbell men have been ordered to stand trial on charges relating to the murder of an Ernest man during a drug deal on a Clymer walking trail.
Testimony during the preliminary hearing revealed cellphone records and saw two new criminal complaints related to gun theft charges against the accused continued.
Those attending the hearing Tuesday afternoon overflowed from the Clymer courtroom into the lobby.
All charges against Gregory “Sam” Patterson, 34, and Christopher Salsgiver, 23, were held for trial at the hearing presided over by Magisterial District Judge George Thachik.
The two are charged with killing James “Pork” Alexander, 46, during a narcotics transaction on the evening of June 24. Alexander and a friend, Jeffrey Swigart, met with the two on the trail around 8 p.m. after Patterson had texted Swigart looking to buy three bundles of heroin.
Not long after meeting on the trail between Sage Street and Route 403, Swigart gave Patterson a package of heroin. Patterson questioned him about the drugs, inquiring into the substance’s quality.
Then, Swigart said, Patterson lunged at him, attempting to put him in a headlock.
The two struggled; Swigart broke free. Before Swigart ran from the trail, he said, Salsgiver reached for a weapon.
“I saw Mr. Salsgiver pull the gun,” he told the courtroom Tuesday.
Running from the trail toward the home of a Clymer friend, Cloyd Fischel, Swigart heard Salsgiver tell Alexander to get on the ground. Then he heard a gunshot.
As he fled the scene, Swigart called for a ride from another friend who lived nearby, Charles Krause. Krause took Swigart to his home, where he relayed what happened.
“I need to know if he’s alive or dead,” Swigart said to Krause, according to his testimony. “You need to call the police.”
Not long after, Fischel went to the trail, according to Swigart. He returned about five minutes later.
“He said Mr. Alexander had been shot in the head and he was dead,” Swigart said.
Paramedics, police and the coroner were sent to the trail. Chief Deputy Coroner Jerry Overman pronounced Alexander dead at the scene.
Police said they believe the killing was planned in retaliation for drug deals gone bad.
In the affidavit of probable cause for Salsgiver’s arrest, Trooper Douglas Snyder reported that Patterson “said it was planned and that they were tired of Alexander ripping them off.”
In his testimony, Snyder, of the Indiana state police barracks, provided details of cellphone records obtained through a search warrant served on Patterson’s cellphone provider.
They revealed a late-night conversation between Patterson and a woman identified as his girlfriend, Denise Williams.
“He is dead,” a message sent to Williams just after 9 p.m. read.
Less than 15 minutes later, Patterson texted her again, saying, “Nobody (expletive) with you.”
“What?” she responded. “I really hope you didn’t do that, Sam,” a message from Williams said.
The messages continued: “He won’t owe you nothing. I killed him.”
“Why would you do that? I don’t understand what is going on with you,” Williams texted.
A final message from Patterson read, “Say nothing. Erase all.”
According to Snyder, Williams had said Alexander cheated her on drug deals and Patterson was aware of that.
He also said that based on financial transaction records and surveillance footage, police were able to determine that after the alleged murder, Patterson and Salsgiver went to the nearby Stoney Bank restaurant and the Sheetz gas station.
The restaurant, he said, is about 30 feet from the entrance to the trail where Alexander was found dead. The Sheetz is not far from the trail.
Overman took the stand, as well. While the Allegheny County medical examiner’s report is not yet complete, preliminary findings indicate Alexander died from a single gunshot wound to the head, he said.
Regarding the wound, “the angle’s been somewhat determined and the position of the person,” Overman told the courtroom.
In closing statements, public defender Thomas Kauffman argued that no testimony supported the charges of robbery. He also said that witnesses could not provide certainty that Salsgiver was at the scene of the crime.
“There’s not evidence that puts him on the trail with the gun in his hand,” he said.
Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty countered that Swigart had testified that Salsgiver was on the trail and that also, in a statement to police, Salsgiver “put himself” on the trail.
Patterson faces 15 charges that include 11 felonies: one homicide count, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of robbery and six counts of conspiracy; two misdemeanor counts of simple assault; and two summary counts of harassment.
A dozen charges have been brought against Salsgiver: one criminal homicide count, one of conspiracy to homicide, two counts each of aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy to robbery — all felonies. He was also charged with two counts each of simple assault and harassment.
Patterson and Salsgiver have also been charged with two additional felonies each. Dougherty indicated after Tuesday’s hearing that the theft and receiving stolen property charges may relate to the handgun used to kill Alexander.
The preliminary hearing relating to those charges was continued due to the inability of the state trooper filing them to appear in court Tuesday.
The morning of the murder, Patterson had sent Swigart a text message asking if he wanted to purchase a “hot” 9 mm, according to testimony. Swigart was not interested in purchasing the stolen handgun.
Patterson and Salsgiver will face trial in the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas.