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Jury told of victim's torture and Smyrnes' past

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:54 p.m.

Ricky Smyrnes said he was sorry for failing his “true friend,” Jennifer Daugherty, a psychologist testified on Monday in his penalty trial for Daugherty's murder.

Dr. Alice Applegate said Smyrnes expressed remorse during a jailhouse interview in 2011, less than a year after his arrest for Daugherty's fatal stabbing in February 2010.

“Jen got killed. She was also a really wonderful person. I never found a true friend like her. I let her (down),” Smyrnes said, according to Applegate, a forensic psychologist hired by the defense in an attempt to spare him from the death penalty.

Smyrnes, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder for being the mastermind of a group of six roommates who tortured and murdered Daugherty, a 30-year-old mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

Smyrnes invited Daugherty to visit their Greensburg apartment, then incited the group to turn on the victim, who was vying with Angela Marinucci for Smyrnes' affection, according to District Attorney John Peck.

The defense contends that Smyrnes should be sentenced to life imprisonment because of his mental and intellectual shortcomings. Applegate said Smyrnes is intellectually deficient, suffers from mental illness and was physically, emotionally and sexually abused as a child.

Smyrnes knew what happened to Daugherty was wrong, Applegate told jurors.

“He said, ‘Why did I let that happen? Why didn't I call the cops?' He said at one point, he just gave up,” Applegate testified.

Smyrnes' problems stem from a horrific early childhood inflicted by his biological parents, a Philadelphia prostitute and a Pittsburgh gang leader, the defense contends.

Smyrnes suffered sexual, mental and physical abuse until he was adopted by the Smyrnes family of North Huntingdon at age 10, Applegate testified.

He was born in Philadelphia to a prostitute who sold her son to be used for sex, the witness said. Smyrnes' biological father, a Crips gang leader in Pittsburgh, molested the boy, and his paternal uncles raped him, she told jurors.

Smyrnes was in and out of treatment and foster placements in early childhood and was diagnosed with 16 disorders, including multiple personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental and emotional deficiencies, Applegate testified.

“One of the things Ricky learned as a child was ... to be helpless in a malicious, malevolent and pernicious family,” Applegate said.

She described Smyrnes as “mildly mentally retarded.” In five of eight IQ tests, Smyrnes' scores fell between 60 and 75.

Peck will question Applegate as she resumes testifying on Tuesday before Judge Rita Hathaway.

Peck contends Smyrnes' criminal record and evidence of the torture inflicted against Daugherty warrant the death penalty.

Dr. Cyril Wecht testified on Monday that Daugherty's wounds were inflicted with the sole objective of causing serious suffering.

While she was held hostage by Smyrnes and his five roommates, Daugherty suffered 24 stab wounds, Wecht testified.

“There is no reason I can fathom for the injuries to be inflicted for any other reason other than to produce deliberate pain,” Wecht testified. “They were designed not to kill, but to inflict pain.”

She died of three fatal stab wounds to the heart that ended more than two days of captivity, according to the prosecution.

Daugherty was tied up, beaten, forced to drink cleaning fluids and feces, raped, drugged and forced to write a suicide note. The others taunted her, cut her hair and poured fingernail polish on her head, according to trial testimony.

Marinucci, 20, of Greensburg is serving life in prison. Peck did not seek the death penalty because she was a teen when she was arrested. Former Swissvale resident Melvin Knight, another roommate, has been sentenced to death. Amber Meidinger has been a key witness in the trials for Marinucci, Smyrnes and Knight, the father of Meidinger's child, a daughter who was born in prison after Daugherty's slaying.

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

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