Fayette DA seeks death penalty in beating death

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 9:39 a.m.

Two men accused in the brutal homicide of a Fayette County woman may be sentenced to death if they are convicted of first-degree homicide.

District Attorney Jack Heneks on Thursday filed notice of his intent to seek the death penalty against Craig Allen Rugg, 24, of Connellsville and Paul Jerome Bannasch, 24, of Uniontown.

State police contend the men beat Margaret “Peggy Sue” Kriek, 52, in a gravel parking lot at the Amtrak station on Water Street in Connellsville shortly after midnight on June 22. They dragged her across railroad tracks and put her body into the Youghiogheny River, police said.

Heneks cited the aggravating circumstances of torture and that the killing was committed during the perpetration of other felonies. Those other crimes, according to the notice, are kidnapping, aggravated indecent assault and related offenses.

Through his public defender, Bannasch entered a plea of not guilty to criminal homicide and the other charges. Rugg did not enter a plea. His arraignment was postponed because his court-appointed attorney, Dianne Zerega, was unavailable to attend the hearing.

The two men declined to comment on Thursday as they were led, handcuffed and in leg shackles, from Judge Nancy Vernon's courtroom.

Heneks declined to comment after the hearings.

“Our notice and our intent speaks for itself,” Heneks said.

During the pair's preliminary hearings in July, prosecutors played a recorded statement they said Rugg gave to state police. In the statement, Rugg said he and Bannasch “really had no purpose” for kicking Kriek until she stopped breathing and dumping her body in the river.

In the statement, Rugg told police they dragged Kriek through the gravel lot and over railroad tracks to the riverbank, where they kicked and punched her until her lifeless body fell into the river.

On the recording, Rugg said he and Bannasch began drinking at 7:30 p.m. on June 21, starting with a case of beer at a friend's house and moving on to several bars in Connellsville before they stopped at Sidewinder's on Water Street. He said the two talked with Kriek about “sexual stuff,” then all three went outside, where they continued the discussion.

Rugg said he became angry when Kriek told him she was “no longer interested” in being with the men.

“It aggravated me,” Rugg said on the recording. “I turned around and punched her in the face.”

The blow sent Kriek to the ground, but she got up. Rugg said he told Kriek he “wasn't putting up with this,” and she yelled as someone approached on a walkway.

“I smacked her in the mouth, and she went down,” Rugg said. “I believe she was knocked out at that point.”

Rugg said he and Bannasch “came to the conclusion” they could not leave Kriek in the lot. He said she was still breathing when they dragged her across several sets of railroad tracks to the riverbank, laid her down and “booted her over the hill” sending her tumbling toward the river.

Rugg said both men kicked the victim several times, and when they realized she wasn't breathing, they fled.

Bannasch told the trooper that after the attack, the two men went drinking at another bar and stopped at McDonald's in Connellsville for a meal.

A Boy Scout troop discovered Kriek's body in the middle of the Youghiogheny River at 10 a.m. June 22 near Adelaide Road in Dunbar Township, Trooper Nathaniel Lieberum testified at the hearing.

An autopsy performed by forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht found the cause of death to be asphyxiation from manual strangulation. In addition, Kriek had blunt-force trauma injuries to her face and body, two broken ribs and numerous lacerations and bruises.

Rugg and Bannasch are being held without bond in the Fayette County Prison.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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