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Smyrnes gets scolding for eyeing jurors

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Ricky Smyrnes' eye for the ladies caught the attention of a Westmoreland County judge on Monday during the first day of jury selection in his capital murder trial.

Judge Rita Hathaway admonished Smyrnes when she learned from court staff that the defendant, whose involvement in a romantic triangle allegedly led to the torture and slaying of a mentally disabled woman, was eyeing up prospective female jurors.

“Stop attempting to make eye contact with the jurors,” Hathaway told Smyrnes.

Four jurors were selected on Monday for Smyrnes' trial. If he is convicted of first-degree murder, prosecutors will ask for the death sentence.

Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, is accused of being the ringleader of six Greensburg roommates who allegedly tortured Jennifer Daugherty for more than two days, then stabbed her to death and put her body in a trash can that was abandoned in a snowy Greensburg Salem Middle School parking lot on Feb. 11, 2010.

Smyrnes, who has shoulder-length hair and a full beard, wore a blue shirt and red tie as he sat in a back corner of Hathaway's jury room during the selection process.

Attorneys and Hathaway interviewed 50 prospective jurors from a pool of 73 candidates.

Three women and one man were chosen: A 37-year-old homemaker from Southwest Greensburg, a 58-year-old man who works as a grocery store assistant manager from Ligonier, a 28-year-old Derry woman who works as a substitute teacher and a 38-year-old middle school teacher from Hempfield.

Smyrnes vetoed a decision by defense attorneys Terrance Faye and Mike DeRiso to accept another Derry man. Smyrnes rejected the potential juror upon learning that the man has the same name as someone who signed a petition supporting capital punishment for Smyrnes.

Jurors will begin hearing testimony in the case on Feb. 4. Hathaway told the panel that the trial is expected to take as long as four weeks.

Sixty-six potential witnesses were identified, including co-defendant Amber Meidinger, who has testified against two of the other roommates.

Meidinger, who faces a potential death penalty, was the key witness against her former fiance, Melvin Knight, and 20-year-old Angela Marinucci.

Knight, 23, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to death during a penalty trial in August.

Marinucci, 20, who was ineligible for the death penalty because of her age, was convicted in 2011 of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.

Prospective jurors for Smyrnes' trial filled out a 63-page questionnaire that asked about their views on the death penalty and mental retardation.

The defense has said it will ask the jury to find that Smyrnes is retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.

Jury selection will continue on Tuesday when about 80 potential jurors are to be questioned.

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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