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Torture killer Smyrnes requests retrial in letter to Westmoreland judge

Ricky Smyrnes sat in the back of a sheriff's car after being sentenced to death by a Westmoreland County jury on Thursday, February 28, 2013.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Convicted killer Ricky Smyrnes wants a new trial, and he wrote a letter to a Westmoreland County judge from his prison cell to ask for one.

After a six-week trial, Smyrnes, 27, was sentenced to death last month for the February 2010 torture slaying of a mentally challenged Mt. Pleasant woman.

Smyrnes, a former resident of North Huntingdon and McKeesport, was the mastermind who manipulated his five Greensburg roommates as the group held 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty captive for more than two days, tortured her and then killed her, prosecutors said.

During his trial, defense attorneys Mike DeRiso and Terrance Faye argued Smyrnes' life should be spared because of his low IQ.

District Attorney John Peck said Smyrnes' letter to Judge Rita Hathaway disproves that contention.

“It's a coherent and thoughtful letter to the judge claiming he was improperly convicted. It undermines his claim of having an intellectual disability,” Peck said.

Smyrnes printed his one-page letter, which included minor spelling and grammatical errors.

Smyrnes asked Hathaway or the U.S. Supreme Court to give him a new trial.

“I didn't stand a chance against my past mental health and criminal record,” Smyrnes wrote.

“My retardation was also used badly on me. John Peck has went out of control on using my abuse against me. It was a (sic) unfair jury trial. Please give me another chance?”

Defense attorneys presented testimony indicating that Smyrnes had such low intelligence that he could not function normally in society. They contended Smyrnes was physically, mentally and emotionally abused by his birth parents before he was adopted.

Peck said Smyrnes' letter, mailed this week from the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, was stylistically similar to other letters he sent to the District Attorney's Office before the trial.

“The handwriting is consistent,” Peck said.

Hathaway did not respond directly to Smyrnes but sent a letter to his lawyers, asking that they address his concerns.

DeRiso and Faye have said they would appeal Smyrnes' conviction and death sentence.

Smyrnes turned on Daugherty because he was involved romantically with another roommate, Amber Meidinger, 20, who is now imprisoned for life, and she was jealous of Daugherty, according to trial testimony.

The group tied up the victim, beat her with a broken towel rack and a vacuum hose and forced her to drink foul concoctions of bodily fluids and household cleaners, according to trial testimony. They cut Daugherty's hair, poured nail polish on her and taunted her, Meidinger told the jury.

Daugherty's body was found Feb. 11, 2010, in a garbage can dumped in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or

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