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Attorney: Smyrnes 'remorseful, lucid' as judge issues death sentence

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 9:09 p.m.
Defense attorneys Terrance Faye (left) and Mike DeRiso speak to reporters at the Westmoreland County Courthouse after Ricky Smyrnes was sentenced to death for the murder of Jennifer Daugherty on March 1, 2013. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Denise Murphy, the mother of the late Jennifer Daugherty, speaks to reporters moments after Ricky Smyrnes was sentenced to death for the murder of her daughter by a Westmoreland County jury at the Westmoreland County courthouse on Thursday, February 28, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Joy Burkholder, the sister of Jennifer Daugherty, talks to reporters while her mother, Denise Murphy, listens, moments after Ricky Smyrnes was sentenced to death by a Westmoreland County jury for the murder of Jennifer Daugherty at the Westmoreland County courthouse on Thursday, February 28, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Bobby Murphy, the stepfather of Jennifer Daugherty, talks to reporters moments after Ricky Smyrnes was sentenced to death by a Westmoreland County jury at the Westmoreland County courthouse on Thursday, February 28, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

Convicted killer Ricky Smyrnes has become the 196th person on Pennsylvania's death row.

Smyrnes said nothing Friday as Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway formally sentenced him to death by lethal injection for the torture murder of Jennifer Daugherty in February 2010.

A defense attorney who argued that Smyrnes should be spared because he was mentally ill and of low intelligence said he was fully aware of his fate.

A jury issued the verdict Thursday night.

“When I spoke to him last night I said I was sorry, Ricky, and that I did everything I could. I looked into his eyes, and his eyes were clear and focused. He looked at me and said, ‘I know you did,' ” defense attorney Terrance Faye said Friday.

Defense attorney Mike DeRiso said Smyrnes has accepted responsibility for his actions. “He's remorseful and he's lucid. He has an idea of what's going on,” DeRiso said.

Smyrnes, 26, formerly of North Huntingdon, was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and other offenses for killing Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

District Attorney John Peck said Smyrnes was the ringleader of a group of six Greensburg roommates who held Daugherty captive for more than two days before she was fatally stabbed.

The group tortured her and one of the roommates raped her, according to testimony. Her body was dumped into a garbage can and left in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School, where it was found on Feb. 11, 2010. The six suspects were arrested that night.

Jurors heard nearly four weeks of testimony before convicting Smyrnes and ultimately sentencing him to death in the penalty phase of the trial.

Reading from a formal proclamation, Hathaway said Smyrnes will be taken to the state prison in Rockview, Centre County, where officials should cause “to pass through your body a lethal injection of intensity sufficient to cause death.”

“May God in his infinite goodness have mercy on your soul,” Hathaway said.

Smyrnes showed little emotion throughout his trial.

His accomplice, Melvin Knight, 23, a former Swissvale resident who fatally stabbed Daugherty in the heart, was sentenced to death in August after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Angela Marinucci, 20, of Greensburg was sentenced to life imprisonment for Daugherty's murder. Marinucci was ineligible for the death penalty because she was 17 years old at the time of her arrest.

Since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in the late 1970s, only three people have been executed at Rockview. The last execution was in 1999.

In addition to the death sentence, Hathaway ordered Smyrnes to serve a concurrent sentence of 10 to 20 years for conspiracy.

During his trial, the defense contended that Smyrnes is intellectually deficient and suffers from various forms of mental illness, including multiple personality disorder. Peck characterized Smyrnes as shrewd and cunning.

Daugherty's parents said the three jury verdicts have been appropriate.

“The jury did get the verdict right. They took someone off the street who will never rape, murder and destroy another family again,” said Bobby Murphy, Daugherty's stepfather.

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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