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6 Greensburg residents jailed in woman's killing

| Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010

On her MySpace page, Jennifer Lee Daugherty talked about making a new start.

She didn't get that chance.

Six people were charged Friday with holding Daugherty, a mentally challenged 30-year-old, against her will for up to 33 hours inside a Greensburg apartment, where they tortured her and stabbed her to death. They allegedly put her body in a trash can, carried it to a nearby middle school and left it in the parking lot.

Charged are Greensburg residents Ricky V. Smyrnes, 23; Melvin Knight, 20; Robert Loren Masters Jr., 36; Peggy Miller, 26; Amber C. Meidinger, 20; and Angela Marinucci, 17, who is charged as an adult.

The six were arraigned early yesterday on charges of criminal homicide, kidnapping, aggravated assault and conspiracy. They are being held without bail in the Westmoreland County Prison.

During the ordeal in the second-floor apartment where four of them lived, the suspects allegedly shaved Daugherty's head and painted her face with nail polish. They forced her to ingest various substances, including urine, vegetable oil, spices, detergent and medications, police said.

They struck her with a towel rack, vacuum cleaner hose and a crutch, police said. Then she was stabbed multiple times in the chest, neck and head.

Neighbors said they heard loud noises coming from the apartment Wednesday night, then silence.

Some in the group wrapped Daugherty's body in Christmas decorations and clothing and put it in a plastic trash can. They carried the can two blocks to North Main Street, across the street and into the parking lot outside Greensburg Salem Middle School, where they left it, police said.

Daugherty's body was discovered shortly before 6:30 a.m. Thursday by a man who had left his truck parked in the school lot. He found the trash can pushed against his vehicle, then noticed the body inside.

Greensburg police Chief Walter "Wally" Lyons said Daugherty has lived at various locations in the Mt. Pleasant and Greensburg areas. He said the chain of events began Monday, when Daugherty traveled to Greensburg by bus from Mt. Pleasant to keep some appointments, then went to the suspects' apartment. Lyons said Daugherty was involved in a relationship with Smyrnes and knew some of the other suspects.

That relationship, which police knew about, along with tips, led them to the North Pennsylvania Avenue residence, authorities said.

Lyons declined to discuss the motive behind the killing.

"I think that's what happened — she was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Lyons said during a news conference.

In statements to police, suspects indicated that jealousy may have been a factor, authorities said. They would not elaborate about the source of the jealousy.

The six, who Daugherty believed were her friends, played various roles in the torture and killing, police said.

Knight admitted stabbing Daugherty in the chest, side and neck, according to court papers. Smyrnes confessed that he cut Daugherty's wrist, and he implicated Knight and Meidinger in the slaying, police said.

Authorities said first-floor residents of the house heard a tussle and a "heavy bam" from an upstairs apartment Wednesday evening.

One of those residents, Floria Headen, yesterday described the noises she sometimes heard from her raucous upstairs neighbors. "Usually it was stomping (sounds)," she said.

On Wednesday night, the noises were different. "I was laying on my love seat," Headen said. "He was body-slamming her. All of a sudden, it stopped. It got quiet."

Amie Gillingham, who lives in the house next door, said city police have been to the suspects' apartment a number of times in the past several weeks because of the noise and fighting among them.

"The cops have been there a lot," she said. "I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, I have kids.' My kids were just out here the other day."

Randy Hoyman, who lives in a basement apartment, said the noise and fighting were constant. On Wednesday night, he heard the suspects arguing.

"There was just a bunch of people hollering out back," he said.

Detectives showed Headen and Hoyman photos of Daugherty to see if she had been staying upstairs. Headen recognized her immediately.

"When I saw that my daughter's garbage can was missing, I put it all together and called the police," Headen said.

Authorities found various items, apparently used to wipe up blood, in the attic of the suspects' apartment.

Investigators became aware of Daugherty's identity when her sister, Joy Burkholder of Mt. Pleasant Township, went to the Greensburg police station on Thursday after seeing news reports about the body that was discovered.

Burkholder told police that Daugherty was missing and couldn't be reached by telephone since she left for Greensburg four days earlier, according to court papers.

Holding back tears yesterday, Burkholder, 31, said her sister, a 1998 graduate of Connellsville Area High School, loved life and people. She enjoyed music, college football and playing with her nieces and nephews.

"She trusted anybody," said Burkholder, whose husband, Lance, stood at her side. "If you met her today, you had a friend for life. ... She thought everybody was good and nobody would hurt her."

She expressed anger for those accused, but said they, too, have families who care about them.

Daugherty's aunt, Linda Kovacs, of Shanksville, Somerset County, said the entire family was trying to fathom how anyone could commit such a horrific crime.

"If anyone knew her ... this stuff is just so completely unthinkable, and it really is breaking all of our hearts," Kovacs said. "She would have trusted anyone with her last dollar, and she would come through for you with anything you would ask her to do.

"I always worried that Jennie was too trusting, and maybe that's what happened. But she was just the most caring, kind individual," Kovacs said.

Daugherty's mother, Denise Murphy, expressed her pain on her Facebook page.

"My daughter Jennifer was taken from us in such a horrific way," Murphy wrote. " ... Someone took all the rage they had in them and inflicted it on her. My heart has been badly broken, and I will miss her always. She was such a unique and fun-loving girl."

Burkholder said the family is coping "moment by moment. We do have a lot of people praying for us."

On Jan. 26, Daugherty posted a message on her MySpace page: "This is my time to make a new start for myself, and making new friends and not being afraid of anything."

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