Share This Page

Killer's trial unfair, lawyers say

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ricky Smyrnes

The lawyers for convicted killer Ricky Smyrnes said in court on Thursday he should be excused from death row because he was not given a fair chance to defend himself during his trial.

Defense attorneys Mike DeRiso and Terrance Faye said prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that would have helped Smyrnes convince jurors that another man was the ringleader of a group of six Greensburg roommates who tortured and killed a mentally disabled woman nearly four years ago.

Smyrnes and his lawyers were in court to appeal his first-degree murder conviction and the death sentence imposed by jurors following his February trial.

Smyrnes' defense team wanted jurors to hear that Melvin Knight was most responsible for the February 2010 slaying of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty.

Smyrnes, 27, and Knight, 24, were sentenced to death by separate juries for their roles in the killing.

Both claimed that the other ordered the roommates to hold Daugherty captive for more than two days and directed the torture, beatings and the eventual fatal stabbing.

Smyrnes' lawyers said they were never told about a videotape played for jurors during Knight's sentencing trial in August 2012 that showed the defendant fighting with jail guards two years after Daugherty was killed.

Smyrnes' defense at trial was that he participated in the attack on Daugherty because he was under duress from Knight.

“The tape could have been used to show who Mr. Knight was and how Mr. Smyrnes succumbed to Mr. Knight,” DeRiso said.

District Attorney John Peck said the tape was not relevant to Smyrnes.

“It doesn't show Mr. Smyrnes was present or was aware of what happened,” Peck said.

The videotape was one of 41 issues raised by the defense in Smyrnes' appeal.

Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway said she would rule on the appeal as well as the lawyers' request to withdraw from the case.

DeRiso and Faye said other lawyers should be appointed to defend Smyrnes in his appeal.

“In order to protect the defendant, he needs a fresh set of eyes,” Faye said.

A third roommate, Angela Marinucci, 21, was convicted of first-degree murder and is awaiting a resentencing hearing under a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Ineligible for the death penalty because she was 17 at the time of her arrest, she was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole.

The cases against Amber Meidinger, 23; Peggy Miller, 30; and Robert Masters, 39, are pending.

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty against Meidinger, who testified against Marinucci, Knight and Smyrnes at their trials.

Meidinger, Miller and Masters are scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 5, when they could agree to plead guilty to murder charges.

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.