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Westmoreland jury learns details of torture slaying

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 12:50 p.m.

Just hours after Ricky Smyrnes allegedly dumped Jennifer Daugherty's body in a trash can, he walked up to detectives investigating her murder and asked, “What's going on?”

Greensburg Detective Jerry Vernail testified Tuesday that Smyrnes and his girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, showed no concern about Daugherty's death when questioned about it outside the Pennsylvania Avenue apartment where she was held captive for more than two days, beaten, tortured and killed.

“He said he knew her and she was there Monday but hadn't seen her since,” Vernail told a Westmoreland County jury who will decide if Smyrnes should be convicted for plotting Daugherty's murder.

District Attorney John Peck will seek the death penalty for Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, for allegedly orchestrating the victim's torture and fatal stabbing with his five roommates in the apartment.

The body of the 30-year-old mentally disabled woman from Mt. Pleasant was found on Feb. 11, 2010.

Vernail said Smyrnes denied any involvement as they stood outside the apartment building.

“He said he was gone all night long and was locked out of the apartment. He said he spent the night on the street, looking for cigarette butts,” Vernail testified.

Smyrnes claimed he spent the night at the Greensburg Train Station, county Detective Will Brown testified.

Smyrnes told police he lived in the apartment with Marinucci, Amber Meidinger, Melvin Knight, Peggy Miller and Robert Masters.

Knight, 23, has been sentenced to death and Marinucci, 20, is serving a life prison sentence for first-degree murder convictions.

Meidinger, 23, testified against Knight and Marinucci and is expected to do so against Smyrnes.

Miller, 30, and Masters, 39, are trying to get plea deals to less serious charges.

Prosecutors contend that group, at Smyrnes' direction, tortured and killed Daugherty.

Jurors saw a series of photographs, projected on a high-definition television, of Daugherty's body as it was discovered in a 45-gallon plastic trash can left under a truck in the snow-covered Greensburg Salem Middle School parking lot.

Waynesburg University professor Adam Jack, a former county detective, testified about the victim's body, her injuries and items seized from the apartment where she died.

Pictures showed Daugherty's body, in a fetal position, stuffed head-down in the trash can.

Five feet of Christmas lights, with only one blue bulb intact, bound Daugherty's hands. Pink pajamas and another 12-foot cord of lights were wrapped around her neck. Silver and blue Christmas garland was tied around her ankles. Her head was covered with red nail polish and bruises.

Daugherty's parents, Denise and Bobby Murphy, seated in the courtroom gallery behind the prosecution, fought back tears as the pictures were shown.

In the apartment, Jack testified, police found a crutch and a towel rack used to beat Daugherty and a library book, “The Gates of Hell Are About to Open.”

Police discovered a fake suicide note, torn into pieces, that Peck said Smyrnes forced Daugherty to write.

“I am done with life. Good-bye. Jennifer,” was one part of the message.

Jack testified police found an 8-inch knife in the attic believed to be the murder weapon.

They found the victim's personal items, including a bag of hair the assailants had hacked from her head.

The prosecution will continue presenting evidence Wednesday morning before Judge Rita Hathaway.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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