Westmoreland taxpayers' tab at $650K in Daugherty slaying case

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 10:22 p.m.

Westmoreland County taxpayers paid more than $88,000 this year to jail and put on trial Melvin Knight, one of six Greensburg roommates accused of the 2010 torture slaying of a mentally challenged Mt. Pleasant woman.

Since the group of six was arrested nearly three years ago, taxpayers have paid more than $650,000 for their prosecutions and incarcerations.

“The best thing we can do is move these cases forward,” said Deputy Court Administrator Tami Silvis.

Knight, 23, of Swissvale was sentenced to death in August for his part in the fatal stabbing of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty. He pleaded guilty in April to first-degree murder.

Police said Knight and roommates Ricky Smyrnes, 26; Amber Meidinger, 22; Angela Marinucci, 20; Peggy Miller, 29; and Robert Masters, 39, held Daugherty captive in their apartment for more than two days.

They beat her and tortured her before Knight and Smyrnes stabbed her, according to testimony. They bound her with Christmas lights and garland, stuffed her body into a trash can and left it under a truck on Feb. 11, 2010, in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Most of the expenses associated with the prosecutions came from holding the inmates in the county jail in Hempfield, where the group has been held since their arrests on the day Daugherty's body was found.

Westmoreland jail Warden John Walton said it costs the county $78 a day to keep an inmate.

The total so far for the six defendants, through mid-December, has reached $442,806.

Knight was moved to a state prison in September after his death sentence. Marinucci was transferred to a state prison in 2011 after she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

According to information compiled by the court administrator's office, taxpayers paid more than $23,700 for defense experts to testify for Knight during his penalty-phase trial.

Defense attorneys Jeff Miller and James Geibig were paid more than $37,000 for their work, although court administrators believe another $9,000 lawyer's bill is outstanding. Westmoreland County paid the court-appointed lawyers $45 an hour.

Jurors were paid a total of $4,500 to hear the case, and the county picked up the more than $1,000 tab to buy snacks and lunches for them.

Judge Rita Hathaway sequestered the jury during lunch on several days during the two-week trial over concerns that the panel was at risk to hear information about the case from sources outside the courtroom.

Smyrnes' lawyers submitted just two bills this year: one for a $12,000 invoice for a psychological evaluation in May, and another for a competency review in September that cost nearly $3,000.

Jury selection for Smyrnes' case is slated to begin Jan. 14, with testimony expected to start on Feb. 4.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Smyrnes. As a result, county officials budgeted an additional $100,000 in the 2013 court budget.

“These (death penalty) cases are long cases, and we don't know if we'll have to sequester the jury. I think we'll be able to handle what the expenses will be,” Silvis said.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Meidinger, who could be tried later in 2013. Her lawyers submitted one invoice this year for more than $1,248.

Miller and Masters have cooperated with prosecutors and are expected to plead guilty to lesser charges.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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