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Judge urged to uphold death sentence for Knight

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A Westmoreland County Prison provided photo shows Melvin Knight, convicted in the 2010 torture-murder of a mentally challenged teenager.

Melvin Knight should remain on death row even if a judge decides that jurors in his case did not take an oath before a sentencing trial last year, a Westmoreland County prosecutor said in written legal arguments filed on Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro in a two-page supplemental court filing said the lack of a sworn jury constitutes harmless error and is not cause for Knight to receive a new trial.

Knight, 23, formerly of Swissvale, Allegheny County, pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder. A two-week sentencing trial resulted in his being condemned to death for the February 2010 torture and slaying of Jennifer Daugherty, a mentally disabled woman from Mt. Pleasant.

The prosecution argued that Knight, along with five other people who shared a Greensburg apartment, held Daugherty captive for more than two days. During that time, authorities say, Daugherty was beaten, tortured and eventually stabbed to death. Her body was found bound with Christmas lights and garland, and stuffed in a plastic trash container under a parked truck at a Greensburg school.

Knight's defense team has said he should receive a new trial because jurors were not sworn in before the sentencing trial.

At a hearing in May before Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway, 11 jurors testified they that were sworn in. But two court officials, including the court reporter who recorded the official transcript of the trial, said they didn't recall an oath being given.

Ciaramitaro said that even if it is determined that an oath was not administered, Knight's sentence should stand.

“Since the defendant has failed to specifically allege how the failure to swear the jury has actually prejudiced him, the claim must fail under this standard of review,” Ciaramitaro said.

He suggested that while the issue has not been addressed by Pennsylvania courts, a federal court ruling last year determined that failure to swear in a jury does not affect a defendant's rights.

Furthermore, the prosecution noted, Knight's lawyers did not object during the trial to the jury's not being sworn in.

“It is well settled that to preserve an issue for appeal, it must be objected to before or during the trial,” Ciaramitaro wrote.

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

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