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Outside jury to hear Smyrnes case

Renatta Signorini
| Friday, June 1, 2012, 10:15 p.m.

An out-of-county jury will decide the fate of Ricky Smyrnes, one of six Greensburg roommates accused of torturing and killing a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant Township.

Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway on Friday granted a defense request for a change of venire because the scheduled August penalty phase of another defendant, Melvin Knight, could potentially prejudice the local jury pool. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.

"It is anticipated that the penalty phase of co-defendant (Melvin) Knight will garner significant publicity in the print and electronic media, as have previous court proceedings related to the so-called 'Greensburg Six' cases," Hathaway wrote in an order.

She ruled that "in order to avoid prejudice to the defendant, it is appropriate that a jury be selected from another county."

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will determine from which county jurors will be selected and brought to the Greensburg courthouse for Smyrnes' trial. He is represented by court-appointed attorney Michael J. DeRiso. Jurors will be lodged here at Westmoreland County's expense.

Smyrnes, 26, along with Knight, 22; Amber Meidinger, 22; Robert Masters, 38; Peggy Miller, 29; and Angela Marinucci, 19 were charged in the February 2010 slaying of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Smyrnes, Knight and Meidinger, who they contend were the ringleaders.

Knight pleaded guilty in April. A Westmoreland County jury will decide in August whether he is sentenced to life in prison or death by lethal injection. A status conference for Meidinger is scheduled for the same month.

Yesterday, Hathaway ordered that jury selection in Smyrnes' capital case begin on Oct. 15. If Smyrnes is convicted, the penalty phase will follow the trial.

According to previous trial testimony, the group tortured Daugherty for more than two days, beating and raping her, forcing her to drink mixtures of human waste and cleaning fluids, and stealing her purse. Smyrnes and Knight allegedly stabbed and choked Daugherty, according to testimony.

Daugherty's body was found in a garbage can left in the snow-covered parking lot at Greensburg Salem Middle School on Feb. 11, 2010.

Hathaway on Thursday denied Marinucci's appeal of her first-degree murder conviction. Marinucci was found guilty during a three-week trial in May 2011 of planning and participating in the torture of Daugherty and failing to stop the fatal stabbing.

She is serving a life sentence.

Masters and Miller have discussed cooperating with prosecutors, but no formal plea agreements have been reached, according to court documents. No action is scheduled in either case.

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