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New sentencing granted in torture-slay case

| Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 11:23 p.m.
Westmoreland County Prison provided photo of suspect Angela Marinucci
Ricky Smyrnes, 26, sits in the back of a sheriff's car at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg after a jury sentenced him to death for the torture slaying of Jennifer Daugherty. BRIAN HENRY I TRIBUNE-REVIEW February 28, 2013
Jennifer Daugherty
Peggy Miller

A Greensburg woman imprisoned for her role in the torture death of a mentally disabled woman three years ago will get a new sentencing hearing, but her conviction for first-degree murder will stand, an appeals court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of state Superior Court ordered that Angela Marinucci's life sentence be vacated as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional.

Marinucci, now 21, was convicted of killing and torturing 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty in February 2010.

Prosecutors said Marinucci was one of six roommates in a Greensburg apartment where they held Daugherty captive for more than two days, beat her, tortured her and stabbed her to death.

Ricky Smyrnes, 27, and Melvin Knight, 23, were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Marinucci, who was 17 at the time of her arrest, was ineligible for the death penalty because of her age.

The appellate court said that Marinucci cannot face a mandatory life sentence because of her young age at the time of her arrest.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he will ask that Marinucci receive another life prison term when she is sentenced in a second hearing.

“Because of the horrific nature of the crime and the clear participation of Marinucci, it warrants a life sentence,” Peck said. “There was considerable evidence she was the primary motivation in bringing about Jennifer's death. Without her, Jennifer's death may not have occurred.”

The prosecution contended that Marinucci, Daugherty and Smyrnes were engaged in a love triangle. Marinucci became upset that Daugherty believed she and Smyrnes were romantically involved, according to testimony at her trial.

Marinucci falsely told her roommates she was pregnant with Smyrnes' child, lured Daugherty to Greensburg and initiated the violence toward her, Peck argued at trial.

The defense contended others were more culpable for the killing.

“We'll be seeking a further appeal with the (state) Supreme Court,” said defense attorney Michael DeMatt. “If they affirm the conviction, we'll come back and do a resentencing.”

DeMatt said he will present mitigating evidence, including Marinucci's age, to argue for a sentence that includes the opportunity for parole.

DeMatt unsuccessfully argued that Marinucci should receive a new trial.

Jurors should have been told that two other roommates, Peggy Miller and Robert Masters, were not available to testify for the defense, and trial Judge Rita Hathaway erred by denying the admission of some evidence and rebuttal witnesses, the defense attorney contends.

The prosecution contended it did not call Miller and Masters to the witness stand because their testimony was not needed.

Prosecutors relied on testimony from another roommate, Amber Meidinger, who spent more than a day on the stand relating to jurors details of Daugherty's torture, humiliation and death at the hands of the six roommates. She described how Daugherty's body was stuffed into a trash can and left under a truck parked at a nearby school.

Meidinger, 23, awaits trial and faces a potential death sentence if she is convicted. Miller, 30, and Masters, 39, are expected to plead guilty to lesser charges later this year.

According to court records, Marinucci's defense attempted to present evidence that on the first night Daugherty spent at the Greensburg apartment Smyrnes and Miller exchanged text messages and Smyrnes asked Miller for sex. Marinucci's attorneys contend that proves she was not upset about Daugherty.

“She argues that Smyrnes sent text messages to Miller professing his love for her and that he wanted to get her pregnant and be the father of her children, which provided Miller rather than (Marinucci) with the motive to kill,” according to the court ruling.

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

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