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Joseph Leos was arrested on Wednesday and charged with criminal homicide

By Tara Fowler
Updated February 20, 2015 10:50 AM
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Credit: John F. Brothers/Herald-Standard/AP

A 58-year-old man has been charged in the death of his childhood friend.

In 1974, 14-year-old John David Watson Jr. got on his bike to go buy cigarettes for his mother. He never came home. The next day, he was found dead in a neighbor’s yard with a 22-caliber bullet in his head, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

For decades, there were no arrests in the case – until Wednesday, when police arrested Joseph Leos in connection with the crime.

“We always had our suspicions, but he never said anything,” Erica Saunders, the victim’s niece, told the paper.

What makes the arrest especially tragic is that Leos lived with Watson’s mother and sister for years after the teen’s death.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” Saunders, 40, added.

The break in the case came after police analyzed gunpowder residue on Leos’s old jacket, which they took from him at the time, but never tested until 2009, according to the Associated Press.

“His actions on the night in question aroused suspicion, but because of the nature of the case and the nature of the scientific evidence at the time, the state police were not able to make an arrest,” Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks told the Tribune-Review.

Police say that Leos likely killed Watson following “an altercation or confrontation,” according to an affidavit obtained by the AP.

Added Heneks: “I think he probably was a suspect, certainly in some of the family members’ eyes, from the night that it happened, because of his actions.”

Watson’s mother and sister both passed away before any arrest was made.

“It’s devastating to the family, because my mom and my grandpap never got to see this,” Saunders said. “It’s closure for my uncle Tom, but it still won’t heal any broken hearts and the pain they suffered through the years.”

Leos is charged with criminal homicide. He did not enter a plea at his arraignment. He is due in court on March 3.