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Westmoreland

Westmoreland judge issues stay of execution for Smyrnes

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, July 10, 2017, 3:27 p.m.
A Westmoreland County jury has decided that Ricky Smyrnes should be put to death for the torture murder of a mentally challenged woman. File photo
Tribune-Review
A Westmoreland County jury has decided that Ricky Smyrnes should be put to death for the torture murder of a mentally challenged woman. File photo
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.

A Westmoreland County judge on Monday delayed the potential execution of a North Huntingdon man convicted in the 2010 torture slaying of a mentally challenged woman in Greensburg.

Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway issued the stay to allow Ricky Smyrnes' new defense attorney, Thomas Farrell of Pittsburgh, to file a new post-conviction appeal.

Amy Worden, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said a death warrant for 30-year-old Smyrnes, which was expected to be signed in September, will be put on hold.

Farrell said he sought the stay to ensure the defense has enough time to file a detailed appeal before the warrant is signed.

“It's going to take some time. I'm reviewing the transcript now,” Farrell said.

From his cell on death row at the State Correctional Institute in Greene County, Smyrnes in April submitted a form to Westmoreland County Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline in which he said he wanted to appeal his case. Smyrnes contended his trial attorneys did not use the proper documents to support his claim that his intelligence was too low for him to receive the death penalty after his first-degree murder conviction.

A month later, the judge appointed Farrell to represent Smyrnes and prepare a more detailed appeal.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in February affirmed Smyrnes' conviction and death sentence.

Prosecutors said Smyrnes was the ringleader of a group of six roommates that held 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty of Mt. Pleasant captive for nearly three days in a Pennsylvania Avenue apartment in 2010. The group systematically tortured Daugherty, then stabbed her to death, prosecutors said.

Her body was wrapped in Christmas lights and garland, stuffed into a trash container and discarded in a snow-covered parking lot off Main Street.

Farrell said he is reviewing Smyrnes' two-week trial to determine if his previous lawyers provided an ineffective defense during the guilt and sentencing phases.

In May, Hathaway ruled that Farrell had 90 days to file an appeal on Smyrnes' behalf. Farrell said he likely will ask for more time.

Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro declined to respond to Smyrnes' latest challenge of his death sentence.

“We will obviously argue the matter at the appropriate time,” he said.

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

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