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Jury seated in torture, killing of mentally challenged woman

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 12:29 a.m.
Sean Stipp
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.

In two weeks, a jury of seven men and five women will begin hearing evidence in the capital murder trial of a man prosecutors contend was the ringleader of a group of six roommates who tortured and killed a mentally disabled woman.

Jury selection was completed Thursday when attorneys chose four alternates for the panel. Testimony in the case against Ricky Smyrnes is scheduled to begin Feb. 4.

Prosecutors contend Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, was the man in charge as 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty was held captive for more than two days at a Greensburg apartment.

While in Smyrnes' custody, Daugherty was beaten, drugged, raped, humiliated and forced to drink concoctions of bodily fluids and cleaning products, according to the prosecution.

Testimony from previous trials revealed that she was stabbed in the heart then bound with Christmas lights and garland, stuffed into a trash bin and left under a parked truck in a snow-covered parking lot at Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Two of Smyrnes' co-defendants already have been convicted of first-degree murder.

Melvin Knight, 22, formerly of Swissvale, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to death.

Angela Marinucci, 20, of Greensburg was ineligible for the death penalty and is serving a life prison sentence.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against 23-year-old Amber Meidinger of Greensburg if she is convicted of first-degree murder. Meidinger testified against Knight and Marinucci and is expected to testify against Smyrnes.

Peggy Miller, 29, and Robert Masters, 39, have cooperated with prosecutors and are expected to plead guilty to lesser charges.

Smyrnes' defense team is expected to argue that he is retarded and that his mental deficiency prevents jurors from finding him guilty of first-degree murder and exempts him from the death penalty.

During the four days of jury selection, attorneys asked 268 prospective jurors their opinions about the death penalty and about mental retardation.

Several of the jurors selected for the case said they had relatives with mental disabilities or worked with people who faced mental challenges.

Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway told jurors the trial is expected to last about four weeks.

The long trial resulted in the judge asking that four alternate jurors be selected.

Selected Thursday were two men and two women to serve as alternates.

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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