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Westmoreland

Ringleader of Greensburg torture, murder case has death penalty conviction upheld

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, 1:45 p.m.
Ricky Smyrnes, the ringleader of a group of six roommates who tortured and murdered Jennifer Daugherty in Greensburg.
Ricky Smyrnes, the ringleader of a group of six roommates who tortured and murdered Jennifer Daugherty in Greensburg.
Ricky Smyrnes sat in the back of a sheriff's car after being sentenced to death by a Westmoreland County jury on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
Ricky Smyrnes sat in the back of a sheriff's car after being sentenced to death by a Westmoreland County jury on Thursday, February 28, 2013.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the first-degree murder conviction and death penalty imposed against an Irwin man authorities said was the ringleader of a group that tortured and killed a mentally disabled woman.

In a 34-page opinion, justices found there was enough evidence to convict Ricky Smyrnes and for the jury to sentence him to death.

Smyrnes, 30, was convicted after a three week trial in 2013 duing which prosecutors said he led a group of six Greensburg roommates in holding 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty captive for nearly three days. The group systematically tortured Daugherty, then stabbed her to death, prosecutors said.

Daugherty's body was discovered wrapped in Christmas lights and stuffed into a trash can left in a snow-covered parking lot.

An appeals court rejected a series of arguments from Smyrnes in which he claimed Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway improperly allowed evidence at trial and that jurors did not correctly weigh evidence during the penalty phase.

“After reviewing the record we are persuaded that the sentence imposed upon appellant was not the product of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor but rather resulted from the evidence that appellant deliberately and maliciously participated in the torture and murder of Ms. Daugherty,” Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote.

Defense attorney Brian Aston declined to comment about the ruling.

The death sentence against codefendant Melvin Knight was overturned last year by the state Supreme Court, which ordered he receive a new penalty phase of trial.

Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Prosecutors said he repeatedly stabbed Daugherty at the urging of Smyrnes.

All six of the roommates were convicted for involvement in the Daugherty murder.

Angela Marinucci, now 24, was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. Amber Meidinger, 27, who testified against her codefendants, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of third-degree murder and is serving a maximum of 80 years in prison. Robert Masters, 43, and Peggy Miller, 34, also pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree murder. Masters is serving up to 70 years in prison, and Miller was sentenced to spend up to 75 years.

In the case against Smyrnes, the prosecution said he convened several “family meetings” during which the roommates decided to kill Daugherty after they had held her captive, beat and tortured her by forcing the woman to drink concoctions of bodily fluids, cleaning supplies and spices.

Although his death penalty was upheld, his execution is not likely to occur anytime soon. Just three people in Pennsylvania have been sentenced to death since capital punishment was reinstated in the late 1970s, and Gov. Tom Wolf has instituted a moratorium on signing death warrants during a review of capital punishment.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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