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Man convicted in torture-slaying files federal suit against Westmoreland prison

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Thursday, July 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A death row inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against Westmoreland County Prison officials in which he claims he was physically and verbally abused while he was awaiting trial for the torture slaying of a mentally disabled woman.

Melvin Knight contends that guards beat him and used racial slurs and that officials failed to properly treat his injuries.

“All the allegations are false, and we will be able to prove it,” prison Warden John Walton said Wednesday.

Knight, 23, formerly of Swissvale, was convicted last year and sentenced to death for the February 2010 murder.

Prosecutors said Knight and five Greensburg roommates held Jennifer Daugherty, 30, of Mt. Pleasant captive for more than two days, when she was beaten, tortured, raped and killed.

In August, a Westmoreland County jury condemned Knight to death. During his death penalty trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Knight was a disciplinary problem while in the county jail.

Jurors saw a video recorded in January 2012, nearly two years after his arrest, that shows Knight threatening to kill a guard and his wife and to blow up their house.

Prison Lt. Brad Tomasello testified Knight was violent and unruly when guards took him from his cell during a disturbance involving several inmates.

The video played for the jury showed Knight standing in front of Tomasello, spewing expletives about him and his wife.

Walton testified about 13 disciplinary cases involving Knight since his arrest when he was violent, abusive or defiant with guards.

Tomasello and Walton were among the 15 guards and administrators and other staffers Knight names as defendants in the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff contends that he suffered extreme acute mental and emotional injury as a result of the entire assaultive incident brought about by defendant ...,” Knight claims in the 34-page lawsuit.

Knight, who is acting as his own lawyer, also contends in the lawsuit that the prison lacked appropriate policies to allow him to make internal complaints about his treatment.

He is seeking more than $300,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer.

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