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Deliberations expected to begin today in killing of Jennifer Daugherty

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 1:33 p.m.

A Westmoreland County jury is expected to begin deliberating Wednesday after seven days of testimony in the torture murder of a mentally challenged woman.

Defense attorney Michael DeRiso said he plans to rest his case Wednesday morning without calling Ricky Smyrnes, 26, to testify in his own defense.

“I have discussed this decision with Mr. Smyrnes at length,” DeRiso told Judge Rita Hathaway. Prosecutors are seeking a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty against Smyrnes, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, in the Feb. 11, 2010, death of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, of Mt. Pleasant.

Smyrnes is accused of leading his five roommates in a Greensburg apartment as they fatally stabbed Daugherty after torturing her for more than two days. Smyrnes blamed the murder on two of his roommates in a 62-minute taped statement made to police that was played for the jury Tuesday. He claimed Daugherty was “making people angry” after Smyrnes rejected her sexual overtures.

“She wanted to be with me, but I told her I couldn't be with her,” Smyrnes said on the evening of Feb. 11, 2010.

Daugherty's body, wrapped with Christmas lights, garland and plastic bags, was found early that morning in a garbage can that was left in the Greensburg Salem Middle School parking lot. Smyrnes told police that Melvin Knight, 23, and Amber Meidinger, 23, were the main culprits in the beating, torture and murder of Daugherty. Smyrnes said he feared Knight, who had drugged Smyrnes.

“My anger is not made for that, to hurt people,” Smyrnes told investigators.

The six 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, according to testimony. Daugherty suffered multiple stab wounds, with fatal blows inflicted to the heart and lungs, said Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist.

Daugherty's mother, Denise Murphy, 56, and stepfather, Bobby Murphy, 65, testified that Daugherty had planned to travel from home by bus to Greensburg on Feb. 8, stay overnight with friends, go to a doctor's appointment the following day and come home. When Daugherty didn't return, Denise Murphy grew concerned that she couldn't reach her daughter by phone for the next few days.

“I was kind of irritated why she wasn't calling me back,” Denise Murphy testified. “I still didn't know if she was with someone else or where she might've been.”

On Feb. 11, 2010, upon seeing a news report about the discovery of a body, Daugherty's sister contacted Greensburg police. The family identified the victim as Daugherty.

Smyrnes admitted to slicing Daugherty's wrist and helping to move her body, but he told police he feared Knight. Prosecutors allege Smyrnes ordered Daugherty's death. In the tape, Smyrnes admitted to sleeping with Daugherty a few days before her death. That upset his girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, 20, he said.

The defense called prosecution witness county Detective John Clark to enter several items of evidence, including Christmas lights that wrapped Daugherty's body and photographs showing the knife allegedly used in the murder, the lights and a room in the Greensburg apartment.

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.

Two other codefendants — 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, 23, a key witness against Knight, Marinucci and Smyrnes. Attorneys are expected to make closing arguments Wednesday morning.

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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