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Witness describes Greensburg torture, says it took 3 tries to kill victim

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 10:42 a.m.
Westmoreland County Prison provided photo of suspect Amber Meidinger
Westmoreland County Prison provided photo of suspect Amber Meidinger

It took three tries to kill Jennifer Daugherty after she was tortured by six roommates in a Greensburg apartment two years ago, an accused accomplice testified Thursday.

Melvin Knight repeatedly plunged a kitchen knife into Daugherty, but she was still alive, Amber Meidinger testified Thursday. Ricky Smyrnes grabbed the knife and slit Daugherty's wrist, Meidinger said.

“Ricky comes out and says the (expletive) still ain't dead,” Meidinger told the Westmoreland County jury who must decide if Smyrnes should be convicted of first-degree murder.

When that did not work, Smyrnes directed Knight to get Christmas lights they used to wrap around Daugherty's neck and choke her, Meidinger said.

She spent nearly five hours on the witness stand as prosecutors seek the death penalty against Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport.

Knight, 23, formerly of Swissvale, was sentenced to death in August.

Meidinger, 23, of Greensburg testified she has no plea deal and faces a possible death sentence if convicted.

The witness, speaking slowly and at times sobbing, said Daugherty's killing came after Smyrnes called “family meetings” of the group.

Smyrnes devised the murder plan and forced Daugherty to write a fake suicide note, Meidinger said.

“Ricky tells us the suicide letter was to be written and put in Jennifer's back pocket so when somebody finds her it would look like suicide,” Meidinger said,

The note bore Smyrnes' fingerprints, retired state police Cpl. James Crouse testified.

Meidinger described in great detail torture inflicted against Daugherty during her captivity.

Smyrnes was the man in charge, she said.

“Certain rules were stated. He said he was the only one who could call a family meeting — we're all living here like a family,” Meidinger said.

Meidinger said Smyrnes started the abuse of Daugherty, which was ignited by a love triangle involving Smyrnes and Angela Marinucci, 20, another roommate at the North Pennsylvania Avenue apartment. Marinucci is imprisoned for life.

Meidinger met Daugherty and Smyrnes at the Greensburg bus station on Feb. 8, 2010.

“Jen came over to me and started talking about her marrying Ricky,” Meidinger testified.

A short time later, Marinucci told Meidinger that Smyrnes said he was leaving his wife for Marinucci, the witness said.

Back in the apartment that night, Smyrnes rejected sexual overtures from Daugherty, Meidinger said.

Within the next three days, Smyrnes led four meetings. The first focused on Daugherty's ability to be a mother. The second addressed ways to humiliate Daugherty. The third was called so all six could vote to kill her and a fourth was held to decide how to dispose of her body.

Meidinger said Daugherty was beaten with a towel rack, punched, tied up, stripped and painted with nail polish on her face. They hacked off some of her hair. The roommates stole money and personal items from Daugherty's purse and poured water, spices and oats over her head, the witness said.

Meidinger admitted she led the group as they forced Daugherty to drink concoctions of urine, feces, cleaning supplies and prescription medication.

Meidinger said Knight, the father of the child Meidinger gave birth to after her arrest, raped Daugherty.

But it was Smyrnes who made all decisions for the group, she said.

“Who was the person in charge?” Assistant District Attorney Chuck Washburn asked.

“Ricky,” Meidinger said.

“Was he the one calling all the shots?” Washburn asked.

“Yes, along with Angela, who was coaxing him along,” she said.

Smyrnes stole a plastic garbage can to dump the body inside and he and Knight dragged it to a nearby school parking lot and left under a truck, Meidinger said.

Daugherty's body was found a few hours later. Her arms were tied with Christmas lights and her feet were bound with garland. A light cord and pink pajama pants were wrapped around her neck.

Defense attorney Mike DeRiso cross-examined Meidinger to illustrate differences between her testimony now and in May 2011.

Meidinger denied seeing text messages she previously claimed Marinucci sent to Daugherty from Smyrnes' telephone to lure her to Greensburg. That conflicted with previous testimony she gave. “I don't remember seeing those text messages,” Meidinger testified Thursday.

Cross-examination resumes Friday morning before Judge Rita Hathaway.

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

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