Four Maryland men have been indicted in federal court for their alleged role in a grisly West Virginia murder as well as the killing of two women who witnessed the initial heinous crime.
Monroe Merrell, 23, David Ray Sanford, Jr., 26, and John Westley Black, III, 23, all of Westminster, Maryland, and Jeffrey Craig Smith, Jr., 23, of Taneytown, Maryland were indicted by a grand jury in connection with the three deaths, the Northern District of West Virginia office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated Tuesday in a news release.
The four were all arrested earlier this year after investigators tied them to the murder of carpenter Jonathan Riddle. Riddle was found stabbed, beaten, and then set on fire in West Virginia on March 18. Two women — Danielle Tyler, 18, and Heather Grogg, 33 — went missing in April and investigators believe they were killed because they were witnesses to Riddle’s murder.
Grogg, a mother of four, was a live-in babysitter for Sanford and his girlfriend’s children. Tyler, a high school senior, was dating Merrell. Sanford’s girlfriend, Emily Day, was also arrested in connection with Riddle’s death and charged with being an accessory before and after the fact.
Investigators believe that Riddle visited Grogg, a friend of his, at the home of Sanford and Day the night before his body was found. A fight allegedly broke out that ultimately turned fatal. The press release indicates that the fight may have been over money.
“This is one of the most heinous crimes I’ve seen, where three people lost their lives for what appears to have begun as a $40 debt,” U.S. Attorney Bill Powell states. “These crimes will be aggressively prosecuted.”
All the men were previously charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy.
Merrell, Sanford, and Black have now been indicted on one count of aiding and abetting kidnapping resulting in death, one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and one count of aiding and abetting corrupt destruction of object involving the March murder. Smith is charged with one count of accessory after the fact for allegedly helping Merrell and Sanford, after the kidnapping and murder of Riddle occurred.
As for the murder of the women, Merrell, Sanford, and Smith have all been indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit tampering with a witness causing death and two counts of aiding and abetting tampering with a witness causing death. Merrell and Sanford are also each facing one count of aiding and abetting intimidation of a witness by threats. Merrell is facing one count of solicitation to commit a crime of violence.
April Lynn Braner, 37, of Falling Waters, W.Va., was also charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in May. A criminal complaint alleged that Braner knowingly allowed her Falling Waters home to be used for the killings of Tyler and Grogg. She’s also accused of providing plastic bags — the alleged murder weapons — to the other suspects. Merrell, Day, and Sanford allegedly drove Grogg and Tyler to Braner’s home on April 6 — advising the two women they would be safe there from criminal investigation into Riddle’s murder. However, the trio had allegedly plotted to kill them there instead.
When they arrived at Braner's property, Sanford allegedly used a plastic bag to asphyxiate Tyler. When Braner realized she was still alive, Sanford then suffocated her until she died, the complaint alleges. Merrell lured Grogg away as Tyler was being killed, the complaint also alleges. Smith is accused of shooting Grogg twice, the Herald-Mail Media reported in May.
A man named Norman Bradford was arrested in May after investigators allege he conspired with others in the murders of Tyler and Grogg, according to a U.S. Marshals press release. They suspect he helped dispose of Grogg’s body. He is known by the alias “Six Three” in the Pagans Motorcycle Club, according to that press release.
While justice has not yet been served in this complicated and tragic case, Riddle’s wife, Diana Denrich Riddle, is relieved that the indictments seem to signal progress.
“I’m happy that there’s now a significant step toward justice for Jon and our family and the other victims’ families” she told Oxygen.com on Wednesday.
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