Westmoreland jurors will hear torture murder case after all
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 2:30 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The jury for the capital murder trial of a Greensburg man accused in the torture slaying of a mentally disabled woman will be picked in Westmoreland County after all.
Judge Rita Hathaway on Tuesday reversed her previous order to select jurors for the trial of Ricky Smyrnes from another county.
Jury selection will begin Oct. 15 in Greensburg.
Upon hearing that news after a brief court hearing yesterday, Smyrnes, who claims to suffer from personality disorder, asked to fire his lawyers and told the judge his life was threatened by guards at the Westmoreland County jail.
Smyrnes, 26, is one of six defendants charged in the Feb. 11, 2010, torture killing of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty, whose body was found in a trash can in the parking lot at Greensburg Salem Middle School.
Police said Daugherty was held captive in a Greensburg apartment for more than two days of torture before she was stabbed in the heart.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that the jury for Smyrnes' trial be chosen in nearby Beaver County.
Angela Marinucci, now 19, was convicted last year and is serving life in prison. Melvin Knight, 22, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April. A jury will hear evidence in August to determine whether Knight should be sentenced to life in prison or death by lethal injection.
In the Smyrnes case, District Attorney John Peck argued that because Beaver and Westmoreland counties are in the same media market, it was not necessary to move jury selection just an hour's drive to the northwest.
Peck previously said that the ease in which juries were selected in Centre County in the child molestation case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and in Allegheny County for the corruption trial of former state Sen. Jane Orie was evidence that a Westmoreland panel could be found for Smyrnes' trial.
“After considering the commonwealth's motion and Mr. Peck's argument, I have reconsidered,” Hathaway said.
Just minutes after Hathaway made that announcement, Smyrnes asked to fire his court-appointed lawyers, Michael DiRiso and Terrance Faye.
Smyrnes told Hathaway he was not ready to go to trial in October. He told the judge that he suffers from severe, ongoing mental health issues, with the additional burden of undergoing alleged threats at the county jail.
“I have been treated with disrespect all the time, by the COs (correction officers),” Smyrnes said. “I've been told by the COs to kill myself or they will kill me.”
Peck said he will ask jail officials to investigate those allegations.
Jail Warden John Walton said Smyrnes has filed grievances at the jail over threat allegations against him by guards and inmates as well as a complaint that officials are withholding his medication.
Walton said the complaints were investigated.
“He's trying to draw attention from himself. He's getting the medicine the doctor said he needs, and he's not being mistreated,” Walton said.
Smyrnes is being housed in the jail's disciplinary unit. Walton said Smyrnes is being punished for not being respectful to a guard.
Hathaway refused to remove DeRiso and Faye from the case and told Smyrnes not to expect comfort at the jail.
“It's not a country club, Mr. Smyrnes. You are an inmate at the prison. You should not expect to have luxury,” Hathaway said.
Smyrnes' mental health is expected to be an issue at his trial.
DeRiso said his client suffers from severe mental illness and has been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. DeRiso said Smyrnes has at least five different personalities.
“That was one in the courtroom today Ms. Faye and I have not seen before,” DeRiso said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or email@example.com.
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Let's get it over with and punish these sick....people.