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Witnesses tie Smyrnes to torture death

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 12:48 p.m.

Five stab wounds to the lungs and heart of a mentally challenged woman caused her death, forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht testified Monday.

An autopsy on Jennifer Daugherty showed substantial bruising, other stab wounds and a “high level” of the antidepressant Zoloft in her system, Wecht testified on the sixth day of trial for Ricky Smyrnes, 26.

The Greensburg man is accused of directing his five roommates in the torture murder of Daugherty, 30, of Mt. Pleasant. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Smyrnes.

“You're not going to live very long with these wounds. You're going to die in a matter of minutes,” Wecht told the Westmoreland County jury.

Prosecutors contend Smyrnes, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, led the group of roommates in a North Pennsylvania Avenue apartment to torture and fatally stab Daugherty. Her body, bound with Christmas lights and garland, was wrapped in two plastic garbage bags, placed in a garbage can and left in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School on Main Street on Feb. 11, 2010.

Substantial bruising on Daugherty's upper arms was indicative of “forceful pressing down,” Wecht testified. Daugherty had numerous bruises on her forehead, knuckles, thighs, back and arms.

Wecht said Daugherty was stabbed multiple times in the back of the head, the neck and chest. There was no evidence of a sexual assault, though co-defendant Amber Meidinger, 23, has testified that Melvin Knight, 23, sexually assaulted Daugherty and fatally stabbed her.

“From a medical standpoint, it's possible for someone to be raped without having injuries,” Wecht testified.

A small stab wound on the victim's wrist was caused by Smyrnes, according to testimony last week. On cross-examination, Wecht said that injury was not significant or deadly.

The suspects beat Daugherty, poured spices and nail polish on her head, cut her hair, forced her to drink cleaning fluids and bodily fluids, and subjected her to other torture, Meidinger has testified.

Two witnesses who testified Monday morning tied Smyrnes to the murder.

Laura Piper, 21, of Greensburg, told jurors she ran into Smyrnes and co-defendant Angela Marinucci, 20, the day Daugherty's body was found. Piper described the pair as acquaintances and Daugherty as a friend.

“Angela (Marinucci) and Ricky (Smyrnes) ... told me they killed somebody,” Piper testified. “He told me that he wrapped her in plastic and put her out by the middle school.”

Andrew Smith, 26, of Greensburg, testified that a friend asked Smith to drive Smyrnes, an acquaintance, to cash a check on Feb. 10, 2010.

Smith picked up Smyrnes at a house on Pennsylvania Avenue and later returned to pick up Knight. The group went to two Greensburg banks in an attempt to cash Smyrnes' check. Smyrnes, sitting in the back seat, received a phone call.

Smith testified that Smyrnes said, “She's done for whenever I get back. We're getting rid of her.”

After the call, Smith said, Smyrnes commented that Daugherty was “getting on everybody's nerves at the house ... and that they just wanted her to be done with.”

Smith testified that he knew Smyrnes was referring to Daugherty, but he didn't know what he meant.

Upon dropping off Smyrnes and Knight, “I heard something that sounded like screaming coming from the house,” Smith testified.

“(Smyrnes) said it's probably just some people fighting,” Smith testified.

Knight, formerly of Swissvale, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death by a jury. Marinucci is serving a sentence of life in prison. She was ineligible for the death penalty because she was 17 at the time of the arrests.

Two other co-defendants — Robert Loren Masters, 39, and Peggy Darlene Miller, 30 — are expected to enter guilty pleas under negotiated plea bargains. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Meidinger, who said she testified against her co-defendants with no plea deal in place.

Jurors are expected to hear Smyrnes' hour-long, tape-recorded statement to city police Tuesday morning.

Greensburg City Police Detective Jerry Vernail told jurors that Smyrnes initially indicated he last saw Daugherty three days before her body was discovered.

“I asked him if he believed (his roommates) were going to tell me the same story, and I confronted him with the fact that I believed he wasn't telling me the truth,” Vernail testified.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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