Jury finds Smyrnes guilty of first-degree murder

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 1:03 p.m.

A Westmoreland County jury must decide whether Ricky Smyrnes should be put to death for masterminding the torture murder of a mentally challenged woman three years ago.

After less than two hours of deliberations Thursday afternoon, the jury found Smyrnes guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy and kidnapping in the Feb. 11, 2010, slaying of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, of Mt. Pleasant.

The jury of eight men and four women reached a verdict shortly before 4 p.m.

The trial will enter the penalty phase on Tuesday, when District Attorney John Peck will present evidence of Smyrnes' violent criminal history as prosecutors seek to convince jurors that he should be put to death by lethal injection.

Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, showed no emotion when the jury foreman read the verdict.

“I don't think he has any concept of what is happening right now. He's on medication, and when he is not on the medication, he is totally nuts,” said defense attorney Mike DeRiso.

Although he asked jurors for an acquittal, DeRiso said he expected a verdict of second-degree murder because Daugherty was killed after being kidnapped.

During the penalty phase, DeRiso said, he will present evidence of Smyrnes' mental deficiency, history of childhood sexual abuse and low intelligence.

Peck declined to comment about the verdict.

“We're very happy,” said Daugherty's mother, Denise Murphy.

Peck told jurors before Judge Rita Hathaway that Smyrnes is “a conniving, scheming, designing, plotting and conspiracy-minded individual” who incited his five roommates in a Greensburg apartment to hold Daugherty captive for more than two days.

Smyrnes ordered his roommates to beat and humiliate Daugherty and then ordered Melvin Knight to plunge a steak knife into her heart, Peck said.

He said Smyrnes wanted to prove his love for Angela Marinucci, 20, by killing Daugherty, a rival for Smyrnes' affection. Amber Meidinger, 23, who has yet to stand trial, testified that the roommates hit Daugherty, bound her, and poured spices, oatmeal and nail polish on her head. They cut off her hair, taunted her, stole gift cards and money from her purse, and forced her to drink concoctions of cleaning fluids and bodily excretions.

Daugherty's body, bound with Christmas garland and a strand of lights, was dumped into a garbage can that Smyrnes and Knight dragged through snow to dump in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Knight, 22, formerly of Swissvale, has been sentenced to death for Daugherty's murder. Marinucci, who was ineligible for the death penalty due to her age, has been imprisoned for life.

Peggy Miller, 30, and Robert Masters, 39, are seeking plea bargains to lesser charges.

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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