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Daugherty Greensburg torture-killing told in ghastly detail

Paul Peirce
| Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010

One of Jennifer Daugherty's alleged killers described in gruesome detail Monday how the six suspects repeatedly tortured the mentally disabled woman for 48 hours before they voted to kill her.

Robert Loren Masters, 36, then calmly described how the group stuffed the 30-year-old woman's body in a trash can and dumped it in a snowy parking lot on Feb. 11.

For more than two hours, Masters described how members of the group took turns assaulting Daugherty in their apartment. They forced her to eat medications, punched her, cut her hair, made her consume drinks containing detergent, feces and urine, and finally stabbed her over and over.

Masters, who was handcuffed, shackled and wearing blue prison fatigues, described the horrific chain of events in a pre-trial hearing before Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway.

Daugherty's family members sobbed throughout his account.

The group spent two days beating and taunting Daugherty before they met "as a family" on the evening of Feb. 11 to decide what to do with the semi-conscious Daugherty, who was lying bound and gagged in the bathroom.

"Ricky (Smyrnes) asked, 'Should we kill Jen?' and everybody agreed to it. Did you agree, too?" District Attorney Chuck Washburn asked.

"Yes," Masters replied.

Smyrnes, 24; Angela Marinucci, 17; Melvin Knight, 21; Amber Meidinger, 20; Peggy Darlene Miller, 27; and Masters are charged with murder, kidnapping, assault, conspiracy and other crimes.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Knight, Smyrnes and Meidinger.

Defense attorney William Gallishen said Masters has reached a "tentative" plea deal in exchange for his testimony against the other five. Gallishen declined to divulge details.

For his own safety, Masters was moved last month from the county jail, where the other suspects are being held.

On the stand, Masters downplayed his role in the murder.

After the first day of the beatings on Feb. 9, Masters testified, he helped Daugherty retrieve her clothes that Knight and Smyrnes had stripped from her and tossed out a window.

Knight and Smyrnes had walked that morning to a convenience store to buy cigarettes using money they took from Daugherty's purse, Masters testified.

"Jennifer said she had to go to the hospital because they made her eat pills. She asked Peggy (Miller) to take pictures of her injuries in the bathroom and send them to her mother," Masters said.

Before Daugherty could get her clothes and get out, Knight and Smyrnes returned to the apartment at 428 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Masters said.

Knight and Smyrnes resumed assaulting and torturing the victim, Masters said.

"At one point I heard Melvin ask, 'Why are you letting me do this to you?' And I heard Ricky ask, 'Is it because you love me?'" Masters testified.

Late on Feb. 10, Smyrnes told the group, "This is taking too long."

"You know what you have to do, Melvin," Smyrnes told Knight, according to Masters.

Masters said Knight went into the bathroom, where Daugherty was tied, and repeatedly stabbed her for about 30 minutes.

After Knight returned to a bedroom, where the other five waited, they heard another sound from Daugherty.

Knight said: "Ain't that bitch dead yet?" Masters testified.

Knight and Smyrnes returned to the bathroom, where Knight slit Daugherty's neck and Smyrnes cut her wrists, according to Masters.

But another noise came from Daugherty. "Ricky mentioned how about breaking her neck," Masters testified.

Knight and Smyrnes returned to the bathroom and "I heard like the sound of bones snapping," Masters said.

Masters will be questioned this morning by defense attorneys for the other suspects.

Jail inmates testified that Marinucci threatened to kill Daugherty several days before her body was discovered.

They testified Marinucci overheard her boyfriend, Smyrnes, telling Daugherty in a telephone call that he loved her and wanted to marry her.

"There was a prior relationship with Ricky Smyrnes and Jennifer Daugherty. It was behind the back of Angie," Anthony Zappone testified.

Zappone, who is being held in the county jail on an unrelated burglary charge, said he met with Smyrnes on Feb. 5 at the Greensburg apartment.

As the two smoked cigarettes on the porch, Smyrnes was talking on the telephone to Daugherty, according to Zappone. Marinucci came from behind and overheard the conversation.

"She said, 'I'm going to kill that bitch,'" Zappone testified.

Another inmate, Tina Warrick, testified Marinucci told her in jail she was disappointed with the type of Christmas garland Miller purchased to tie Daugherty up and dump her body.

"Angela said she was upset it wasn't battery-operated Christmas lights so she would have been blinking when they found her," Warrick said.

Daugherty's body was discarded in a trash can and left in a snow-covered parking lot at Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Marinucci told county Detective Robert Weaver that Daugherty came to Greensburg and originally stayed with Marinucci at her parents' home on Mt. Pleasant Street before ending up at the group's apartment. Marinucci had incorrectly told the group she was carrying Smyrnes' baby.

"Angela was pregnant with Ricky's baby and Jen was trying to be with him. Everybody thought that was wrong," Weaver testified.

Marinucci claimed Knight and Meidinger first drugged Daugherty, according to her statement to police. She claimed Knight fatally stabbed Daugherty.

Meidinger told police Smyrnes inflicted the fatal stab wounds, according to testimony.

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