Smyrnes' adoptive mother 'thought love could conquer all'

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:42 p.m.

A North Huntingdon nurse described for a jury Wednesday how she struggled to get help for an emotionally damaged boy she adopted 16 years ago, only to see him become a convicted murderer facing a possible death sentence.

Audrey and James Smyrnes saw 10-year-old Ricky in a television story about how the boy needed a good home.

“We fell in love with him right away. We came in and we met him, and we were hooked,” Audrey Smyrnes told a Westmoreland County jury.

Jurors will begin deliberations Thursday to determine whether Ricky Smyrnes should be sentenced to life in prison or death by lethal injection for the 2010 torture murder of Jennifer Daugherty of Mt. Pleasant, Judge Rita Hathaway said.

His 63-year-old mother, who works at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, testified she and her husband adopted a girl and then adopted her younger brother.

“My husband wanted a boy because he wanted someone to carry on his name,” Audrey Smyrnes said.

Ricky Smyrnes, 26, was convicted by the jury earlier this month for first-degree homicide, conspiracy and kidnapping in the death of Daugherty, 30, a mentally challenged woman.

She was visiting Ricky Smyrnes and five other people in a Greensburg apartment when he manipulated the group into turning on Daugherty, according to prosecutors.

District Attorney John Peck said Ricky Smyrnes led the group as they beat Daugherty, tied her up and forced her to drink concoctions of bodily fluids, cleaners and prescription pills. They cut her hair, stole items from her purse, raped her and stabbed Daugherty 24 times before inflicting three fatal wounds to the heart, according to testimony. Then Ricky Smyrnes and another man shoved her body into a garbage can and dumped it in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School, where it was discovered on Feb. 11, 2010, witnesses said. Her body was wrapped in Christmas lights, garland and plastic.

Greensburg police officers testified Wednesday that Ricky Smrynes was laughing and joking as he was arraigned before District Judge James Albert. As Smyrnes was driven to the county prison, he boasted about how the murder charge would enhance his status with the other inmates, Patrolman Charles Irvin testified.

James Smyrnes died 10 months later.

His widow testified that Ricky had a tough time adjusting to his new home and proved to be a difficult child.

At age 11, he sexually assaulted a classmate and burglarized a neighbor's home, witnesses previously told the jury.

Ricky Smyrnes was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder and other mental illnesses after an early childhood marred by sexual, emotional and physical abuse, defense witnesses testified.

“I thought love could conquer all,” Audrey Smyrnes said.

She said she and her husband did all they could think of to help their son, including placing him in special schools and treatment programs.

As a teenager, Audrey Smyrnes said, her son thought of himself as “a ladies' man.”

Ricky Smyrnes moved out of the house at age 18, married and moved with his wife into a Greensburg apartment that he furnished with stolen goods, according to his mother. Upon the birth of the couple's two sons, now ages 4 and 6, the county Children's Bureau took custody of the newborns, Audrey Smyrnes said.

In 2009, Audrey Smyrnes went to visit her son, but he cursed her, threatened to kill her and physically ejected her, she testified.

Audrey Smyrnes obtained a protection from abuse court order against her son.

“That's when I said, ‘I'm done.' It was the end,” Audrey Smyrnes said.

Wednesday marked the first time she has laid eyes on Ricky Smyrnes since that encounter, she said.

“I knew deep in my heart something would happen. But I thought it would happen to him. I was sure he would be the one who got killed,” Audrey Smyrnes said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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