11 jurors in Knight death sentence hearing confident they took oath
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Friday, May 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Eleven jurors who condemned Melvin Knight to death testified on Thursday they were sworn in before last year's sentencing hearing.
But two members of the judge's staff insisted that no oath was ever administered as they testified during a hearing on Thursday on a defense request for Knight to receive a new sentencing hearing.
Knight, 23, formerly of Swissvale, pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder for taking part in the February 2010 torture slaying of Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.
Knight's defense team said failure to swear in jurors is a flaw that would vacate his death sentence, which was determined by the jury on Aug. 30. Judge Rita Hathaway made no ruling.
All 12 jurors and two alternates who sat through the nine-day trial in August testified during the five-hour hearing. Their names were not disclosed.
“I remember thinking this is serious, and oh, we're in it now. I remember clearly that we did it,” juror No. 3 testified.
Juror 12 said he had no doubt he took an oath prior to hearing testimony in the case.
“I remember vividly raising my right hand and being sworn in,” the juror testified.
Three jurors said they could not recall taking an oath.
In August, the jurors deliberated just two hours before they determined that Knight should be sentenced to death by lethal injection rather than life imprisonment.
Police said Knight was one of six Greensburg roommates who held Daugherty captive for more than two days, beating her and torturing her before she was stabbed to death. Witnesses said Knight raped Daugherty and stabbed her in the heart. Daugherty's body was later bound with Christmas lights and garland, stuffed into a trash can and left under a truck parked at Greensburg Salem Middle School.
Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and the jury heard testimony to determine his sentence.
The issue of the jury not being sworn in arose the day after the jury's verdict was announced. Court officials checked the official transcript and found no indication that an oath was administered.
Court reporter Kathy Sileo testified that she was in the courtroom at the start of the trial, but the oath was never given.
Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro questioned Sileo if she could have been out of the courtroom at the time or just missed the oath.
“No, I don't believe so. I would not have missed the jury being sworn in,” Sileo testified.
Hathaway vigorously questioned Sileo about the transcript she prepared and entries that appeared in a rough draft of that document, which lacked specifics about when the jury was brought into the courtroom.
Betty Mansour, Hathaway's minute clerk, testified she first suspected there was a problem with the oath on the morning before deliberations started. Mansour said she did not follow up on her concerns until the next evening, after the verdict had been announced.
Jurors testified it was Mansour who administered the oath to them on Aug. 20, the first day of the trial.
Mansour testified her court records failed to show that jurors were sworn in.
Defense attorney Jeff Miller asked if it was possible Mansour just didn't record the oath.
“Anything is possible, but I don't feel I missed it,” she testified.
Miller also renewed his request from last week, seeking to have Hathaway recuse herself from the case so another judge could make a ruling on the issue.
“I believe I can be fair,” Hathaway said in denying the motion.
Hathaway ordered lawyers to submit legal arguments before she decides the case.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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