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3 accomplices to plead guilty to murder, torture of Mt. Pleasant woman

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By Rich Cholodofsky

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 2:48 p.m.

Amber Meidinger could be paroled from prison before her 60th birthday under terms of a plea bargain finalized Wednesday for her role in the torture slaying of a mentally challenged woman nearly four years ago.

Meidinger, 23, of Greensburg had faced a potential death sentence, but agreed to a deal requiring her to plead guilty to third-degree homicide in exchange for a prison sentence of 40 to 80 years.

Meidinger was one of six roommates who held 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty captive for more than two days, beating her and humiliating her before they forced her to drink concoctions of bodily fluids and cleaning supplies.

Daugherty was then bound with strings of Christmas lights and garland, stabbed to death, stuffed into a trash can and left under a truck parked in a snow-covered parking lot at Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Meidinger, dressed in a blue prison jump suit, pleaded for forgiveness from Daugherty's family in court Wednesday.

“She didn't deserve that at all,” Meidinger testified, as tears streamed down her face. “I hate myself for that. I hate it.”

Meidinger was the key prosecution witness against three accomplices.

During the trials of Angela Marinucci, Melvin Knight and Ricky Smyrnes, Meidinger spent hours testifying about the grisly details of Daugherty's torture.

The witness described “family meetings” the six roommates convened to vote on Daugherty's fate.

Marinucci, who prosecutors said initiated the assaults when she became jealous of Daugherty's relationship with Smyrnes, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Because Marinucci of Greensburg was 17 at the time of her arrest, she was ineligible for the death penalty.

Smyrnes, 27, of North Huntingdon and Knight, 24, of Swissvale were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Meidinger testified that she watched Knight rape Daugherty during her captivity.

Knight fathered Meidinger's daughter, who was born seven months after their arrests.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck initially filed notice that he would pursue the death penalty against Meidinger. He said he agreed to a lesser sentence because of her cooperation.

“She was the only defendant to come forward and give us a truthful account of what happened in that apartment. The details would never be known without Amber Meidinger's testimony,” Peck said. “In return, we have an obligation to be fair. I think 40 years is not a lenient sentence.”

Defense attorney Amy Keim said Meidinger on her own asked to cooperate with prosecutors and did so without any promise for a lesser sentence.

Under the deal approved by Judge Rita Hathaway, Meidinger entered guilty pleas to a reduced charge of third-degree murder, two counts of conspiracy and kidnapping.

Hathaway imposed the recommended sentence of 40 to 80 years in prison. Meidinger was given credit for the nearly four years she has been imprisoned since her arrest.

“I do not think you are an evil person, but you did an evil thing, an evil and horrendous thing,” Hathaway said.

Daugherty's family members, who have faithfully attended court sessions since the murder, told the judge that they approved Meidinger's plea bargain, but they are still deeply mourning Jennifer's death.

“All I know is Amber Meidinger should spend as much time in prison as possible,” said Daugherty's oldest sister, Joy Burkholder. “I ask, Your Honor, please make this good enough for Jennifer.”

The last two roommates remaining to be prosecuted were in court Wednesday, when their lawyers told Hathaway that plea bargains have been reached.

Peggy Miller, 30, and Robert Masters, 39, previously agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Masters testified during a pretrial hearing several months after his arrest.

Defense lawyer Laura Gutnick told Hathaway that Miller and Masters would plead guilty to third-degree murder and it would be up to the judge to determine their sentences.

Hathaway ordered Miller and Masters to return to court Dec. 19 to finalize their pleas.

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



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