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Jury selection to begin for alleged ringleader in Greensburg torture slaying

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Ricky Smyrnes, the alleged ringleader of the the group of six charged with torturing and killing Jennifer Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman, in a Greensburg apartment, arrives at the Westmoreland County Courthouse for a hearing on September 28, 2012.

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Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday in the capital murder trial of the man police contend was the ringleader of a band of Greensburg roommates charged with the torture slaying of a mentally challenged woman nearly three years ago.

According to prosecutors, Ricky Smyrnes, 26, formerly of McKeesport, served as head of the household and orchestrated more than two days of torture and the stabbing death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty.

The Mt. Pleasant woman was found Feb. 11, 2010, bound with Christmas lights and garland and stuffed into a plastic garbage bin that was left under a parked truck in the snow-covered parking lot at Greensburg Salem Middle School.

The jury selected this week will be the third to hear evidence in the torture slaying.

In August, Melvin Knight was sentenced to death by a jury for his role in the slaying. Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April.

Smyrnes' girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, was convicted of first-degree murder in May 2011 and sentenced to life in prison. Because she was 17 at the time of her arrest, she was ineligible for the death penalty.

“When you have multiple trials like this you have an advantage for the prosecution. They have heard the witnesses before and they can adapt to what they said before,” said John Burkoff, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Smyrnes' case will differ from the previous two trials in part because the defense is expected to claim that mental illness played a role in case.

Defense attorneys Mike DeRiso and Terrence Faye in September attempted to have Smyrnes plead guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder. That plea essentially would have taken the death penalty off the table.

Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway rejected that effort and said a jury should determine whether Smyrnes' mental illness excludes him from being condemned to death if he is found guilty.

Last summer, Smyrnes' defense team claimed their client suffered from multiple personalities but, after a mental health evaluation, he was found competent to stand trial.

In addition to concerns about mental illness, the defense claims Smyrnes' low intelligence prohibits the death penalty. Tests place Smyrnes' IQ between 67 and 75, the defense has claimed. The average IQ in the United States is usually set at 100.

Jurors will consider more than just Smyrnes' mental health and intelligence, Burkoff said.

“Much of what the jury decides is based on the heinousness of the crime. They will hear how awful it was, and a big piece of the prosecution is to show how gruesome, heinous or evil it was,” Burkoff said.

Hathaway has asked that 400 prospective jurors be available this week. Eighty potential panelists initially will be questioned by lawyers and the judge on Monday.

Testimony in the trial is slated to begin on Feb. 4.

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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