Trial opens for suspect in Greensburg torture slaying
A Westmoreland County jury heard nothing Monday about the alleged intellectual limitations of the man accused of goading his five roommates into torturing and killing a Mt. Pleasant woman who was mentally challenged.
Judge Rita Hathaway prohibited defense lawyers for Ricky Smyrnes to tell jurors in an opening statement that he suffered from diminished mental capacity during the stabbing death of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, almost two years ago.
Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, is accused of leading the group as they tortured Daugherty for more than two days and then murdered her in a Greensburg apartment they shared.
Testimony started Monday in District Attorney John Peck's quest to have Smyrnes sentenced to death if he is found guilty of first-degree murder.
Before the trial began, Hathaway heard arguments on whether jurors should hear evidence about Smyrnes' mental capacity.
Defense attorney Michael DeRiso contends Smyrnes has low intelligence and suffers from a multiple personality disorder.
Peck argued that Smyrnes told a psychologist he did not kill Daugherty, making a diminished capacity defense inadmissible.
Hathaway ruled DeRiso could not mention the issue during the opening statement. She will rule later on whether the defense can introduce that evidence.
DeRiso said in a brisk, 15-minute statement that the others terrorized Daugherty at their own initiative and it was Melvin Knight who plunged a knife four times into Daugherty's heart.
“This is not a whodunit. It's whodunit to what degree,” DeRiso said.
Peck told jurors that Smyrnes orchestrated hours of torture against Daugherty.
Smyrnes presided over three ”family meetings” he called for the group to discuss Daugherty's fate. Peck said Smyrnes ordered Daugherty to write a suicide note after forcing her to ingest medication in an “ingenious” plan.
“The defendant was wise enough to always have somebody else do his dirty work,” Peck said. “He wasn't going to have blood on his hands. Ultimately, he relied on Melvin Knight to do his dirty work.”
DeRiso said it was ridiculous to consider Smyrnes a leader. In court, he wore a blue, button-down dress shirt, and had his shoulder-length hair slicked back.
“We don't agree this man over here somehow got together the six of these people and started playing puppetmaster,” DeRiso said.
DeRiso conceded that Smyrnes helped to hold Daugherty captive and to dispose of her body.
Prosecutors allege that the group's ill will against Daugherty was ignited by Smyrnes' girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, 20, who perceived Daugherty as a romantic threat.
Roommate Amber Meidinger, 22, testified against Marinucci, who is imprisoned for life.
Meidinger also testified against Knight, who fathered the daughter she gave birth to while being held in the Westmoreland County Prison.
Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Peck will seek the death penalty against Meidinger, who testified she had no plea deal. Still awaiting trial are Peggy Miller, 30, and Robert Masters Jr., 39.
Daniel Grant of Greensburg testified he found a plastic trash can containing Daugherty's body under his service truck, which was parked outside Greensburg Salem Middle School, on Feb. 11, 2010.
Rebecca Clark testified that as she drove to work shortly before dawn that morning she saw two men on Main Street dragging a trash can near the school.
Testimony will resume Tuesday morning. One female juror was dismissed Monday for personal reasons and was replaced by an alternate.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Century mark beckons for Ben
- Flyers continue mastery of Penguins at Consol
- Highmark seeks double-digit increase for more benefits, heavy use
- Wanted sex offender caught hiding in homemade fort in Washington County
- Officials identify witness to Port Authority bus crash after releasing photo
- Steelers’ defense on pace for fewest sacks in 16-game season
- Canadians more fearful, aware after ‘very rare’ attack in Ottawa
- Motorist in Downtown mishap, passenger arrested on drug charges
- Corbett rips Wolf tax proposals during Hempfield campaign stop
- WPIAL, coaches are still looking to schedule Week 9 rivalry games
- Florida fugitive nabbed in Pittsburgh-area homeless shelter