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Killer's trial unfair, lawyers say

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

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.

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