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Smyrnes defense claims mental disability

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Tribune-Review
A Westmoreland County jury has decided that Ricky Smyrnes should be put to death for the torture murder of a mentally challenged woman. File photo

Prospective jurors who will hear evidence in the capital murder trial of Ricky Smyrnes will be asked by the defense to find him mentally disabled.

Defense attorney Terrance Faye, while questioning potential panelists this week, told would-be jurors that Smyrnes' mental abilities would be a key part of the case.

Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, is charged with first-degree murder in the Feb. 11, 2010, torture-slaying of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

Prosecutors contend Smyrnes was the ringleader of six Greensburg roommates who held Daugherty captive for more than two days, tortured her and stabbed her to death.

Smyrnes' defense team wants the jury to find Smyrnes mentally disabled, which would make him ineligible for the death penalty.

Prospective jurors are being told by the defense that Smyrnes must be found disabled under the law if he meets three criteria.

During the trial, the defense will have to prove that Smyrnes has limited intellectual function; that his adaptive behavior is significantly limited; and that his mental condition was recognized before he turned 18.

The prosecution is expected to argue that the Daugherty murder was so heinous that Smyrnes deserves to be put to death for his role in the slaying. Prosecutors contend that Smyrnes is not mentally impaired.

Several psychologists are listed among the more than 60 witnesses expected to be called to testify during the trial.

Lawyers on Tuesday selected for the jury two men: A 22-year-old equipment services technician from Latrobe and a 45-year-old retail salesman from Hempfield, and a 50-year-old Scottdale woman who works as a registered nurse in a group home for mentally and physically challenged men.

In all, seven jurors have been selected for the trial.

Jury selection will continue on Wednesday and testimony is scheduled to start 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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