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Psychologist: Torture-slaying suspect Smyrnes' 'mildly retarded'

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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 10:51 a.m.

A forensic psychologist testified Wednesday that accused killer Ricky Smyrnes is intellectually deficient.

Dr. Alice Applegate, a forensic psychologist with a private practice in Allison Park, told jurors that intelligence tests taken by Smyrnes showed that his IQ ranged from a high of 92 as a child to as low as 60 last fall.

An IQ of 50 to 75 can be considered “mildly mentally retarded,” she said.

“In my opinion, Ricky Smyrnes has mild mental retardation,” Applegate testified.

Defense attorneys are seeking to prove that Smyrnes was under duress from co-defendant Melvin Knight when he participated in the torture slaying of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

Daugherty was held captive for more than two days in a Greensburg apartment, where she was beaten, humiliated, raped, tortured and fatally stabbed. Her body was discovered Feb. 11, 2010, in a trash can left in a nearby middle school parking lot.

Prosecutors are seeking to convict Smyrnes of first-degree murder and will ask jurors to sentence him to death if they return that verdict. Knight was sentenced to death last August for his role in the murder.

Smyrnes, 26, was the leader of the group of six Greensburg roommates who tortured and killed Daugherty, District Attorney John Peck told jurors.

Applegate testified that Smyrnes' adopted mother reported that he had been molested by his father as a child and sold into sex with other men by his mother.

As a child, Smyrnes scored 92 and 81 on IQ tests, Applegate testified.

When he was 18, Smyrnes scored a 67 and two 75s on three additional tests.

He recorded a 67 on a test that he took four years ago; a 79 when he was tested by Applegate in May 2011; and a 60 last September, the witness testified.

Applegate testified she doesn't believe the IQ test that Smyrnes' scored the best, with 92, was accurate. She told jurors that higher scores don't always indicate a person's true mental capacity.

“Sometimes you find a four-leaf clover and sometimes a bad batter has a good day,” Applegate testified.

Applegate said she has been paid about $25,000 for her work on Smyrnes' defense.

Defense attorney Mike DeRiso won a last-ditch effort to present the evidence about Smyrnes' mental capacity.

Judge Rita Hathaway previously barred that evidence unless the trial reached the penalty phase.

The judge said Smyrnes could not claim he suffered from diminished capacity because he had told Applegate that he didn't kill Daugherty.

On Wednesday, Hathaway allowed the defense to use testimony about Smyrnes' intelligence to argue that Smyrnes was under duress from Knight during the torture and murder. Her ruling came before the jury was poised to hear closing arguments.

DeRiso, in a 45-minute argument outside the jury's presence, argued that Peck opened the door to the duress defense on Tuesday by playing for jurors a 62-minute statement that Smyrnes gave to police following his arrest.

Smyrnes told police he feared Knight, who threatened Smyrnes throughout Daugherty's ordeal.

“The defense of duress didn't exist until the commonwealth mistakenly played the tape,” DeRiso said.

Under questioning from Peck, Applegate testified that Smyrnes was competent to stand trial and understood questions asked by police after Daugherty's body had been discovered.

The trial reconvenes Thursday morning before Hathaway. Peck told the judge he hasn't decided whether to call an expert to counter Applegate's testimony.

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

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