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DA seeks to bar Smyrnes' mental defense

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:02 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.

Westmoreland County prosecutors want accused killer Ricky Smyrnes barred from seeking a diminished capacity defense at his upcoming capital murder trial.

District Attorney John Peck said in a court document filed on Thursday that Smyrnes told a defense expert witness that he did not participate in the torture and murder of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty.

“Inasmuch as the defendant has failed to concede criminal liability for the crime of criminal homicide of Jennifer Lee Daugherty, testimony of the ... defendant's diminished capacity to commit such a crime is inadmissible,” Peck wrote.

Smyrnes, 26, formerly of Irwin and McKeesport, is charged with first-degree murder and criminal homicide for the Feb. 11, 2010, stabbing death of Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

Prosecutors contend Smyrnes was the ringleader of a group of six people who shared a Greensburg apartment and held Daugherty captive for more than two days, then tortured and killed her.

Daugherty's body, bound with Christmas lights and garland, was discovered stuffed in a trash can left under a truck in the Greensburg Salem Middle School parking lot.

Peck has said he will seek the death penalty against Smyrnes if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

Co-defendant Melvin Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last April and a jury sentenced him to death in August.

Smyrnes' girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, 20, was convicted in 2011 of first-degree murder and is serving a life prison sentence.

She was ineligible for the death penalty because she was 17 at the time of her arrest.

Defense lawyers Mike DeRiso and Terrance Faye have said they intend to prove that Smyrnes is mentally disabled and suffers from multiple personality disorder, factors that could exclude a first-degree murder conviction and disqualify him from the death penalty.

In his motion, Peck said Dr. Alice Applegate, a listed defense witness who conducted a psychological exam of Smyrnes, issued a report in November that stated Smyrnes denied involvement in the murder.

Diminished capacity requires psychiatric testimony about a defendant's mental disorder that specifically affects cognitive functions, Peck said.

“If a defendant does not admit that he killed the victim, but rather advances an innocence defense, then evidence of diminished capacity is inadmissible,” Peck wrote.

Neither DeRiso nor Faye could be reached for comment on Thursday.

The jury for Smyrnes' trial was selected last week. Testimony before Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway is scheduled 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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