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Westmoreland

Westmoreland district attorney probes letters from 2 death row inmates

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, April 25, 2018, 5:33 p.m.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he is investigating the authenticity of letters from two death row inmates convicted in the torture slaying of a mentally challenged woman in Greensburg.

One letter includes threats by one inmate against the other's family.

Both letters were made part of the public case file this week by Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway.

“I don't know if they are authentic,” Peck said.

One letter purportedly was sent from Melvin Knight, 28, formerly of Swissvale, to the ex-wife of his co-defendant, Ricky Smyrnes.

Both Knight and Smyrnes, 32, formerly of North Huntingdon, were convicted of first-degree murder for the February 2010 stabbing death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty. They were among six roommates convicted on charges related to the murder.

Daugherty was held captive for more than two days and was beaten, tortured and eventually killed. Her body was tied up with Christmas lights, stuffed into a garbage can and left in a nearby school parking lot.

Knight was sentenced to death in 2012. A year later, a death sentence was imposed on Smyrnes. Both are on death row at SCI Greene.

Knight's death penalty was overturned by a state appeals court and a new sentencing trial for him is scheduled to begin in July. Peck is again seeking the death penalty.

Prosecutors contended that Knight stabbed Daugherty at Smyrnes' urging.

Knight's defense attorney, Tim Dawson, said Knight has reported to prison officials threats Smyrnes has made against him.

“He categorically denies writing it. We have handwriting samples if necessary. Smyrnes is desperate and harasses Melvin Knight whenever he can,” Dawson said.

Smyrnes lawyer, Thomas N. Farrell, did not return calls seeking comment.

Smyrnes' ex-wife, Karena Smyrnes, testified on Knight's behalf during his sentencing trial that her former husband was a violent man.

The letter allegedly sent by Knight includes threats against Karena Smyrnes and her child.

“When I get out I will stab you and your son and your family,” the letter states.

It includes other threats and admissions.

“Everything Ricky shows you in his paperwork about me is true and what I did to Jennifer,” the letter states.

In the letter Smyrnes sent to the Hathaway, he claimed he was “worried sick” and scared for his former wife, He asked the judge to intervene.

Hathaway sent copies of both letters to Peck and to Knight and Smyrnes' lawyers.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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