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Westmoreland

Imprisoned in Greensburg torture-slaying, 'juvenile lifer' seeks chance at parole

Rich Cholodofsky
| Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Westmoreland County Prison-provided photo of  Angela Marinucci.
Westmoreland County Prison-provided photo of Angela Marinucci.
Jennifer Daugherty
Jennifer Daugherty
An urn containing the remains of Jennifer Daugherty in the home of her mother and step-father.  
(Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review)
Tribune-Review
An urn containing the remains of Jennifer Daugherty in the home of her mother and step-father. (Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review)

Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway never saw a defendant who more deserved life in prison without even the possibility of parole.

That's what she said two years ago after a lengthy resentencing hearing for Angela Marinucci, who was 17 at the time of the 2010 torture slaying of a mentally challenged woman in Greensburg. Convicted of first-degree murder, she was the youngest of six Greensburg roommates sent to prison for the crime.

Hathaway imposed the original sentence and gave her life in prison again at the 2015 resentencing, where she spent 45 minutes recapping the terrible evidence against Marinucci.

Defense attorney Michael DeMatt said this week Marinucci will again ask for a new sentence, one that eventually will allow her to win parole. This time, the request is based on a ruling in June by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that determined life-without-parole penalties for juvenile offenders should be the exception rather than the rule.

“I think she has to be resentenced. It seems clear to me that she would be entitled to a minimum sentence,” DeMatt said.

According to a detailed report published this month by the Associated Press, about 2,000 people in the United States are serving life prison sentences imposed for crimes they committed as juveniles.

Courts nationwide are struggling to deal with what to do about juvenile lifers, including in Pennsylvania.

According to the Department of Corrections, there are 519 men and women in Pennsylvania prisons who were sentenced to life without parole for murders they committed as juveniles.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 found that mandatory life sentences with no opportunity for parole are unconstitutional penalties for juveniles.

And just last month, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling that said there is a presumption against life-without-parole sentences and that in order to issue such a penalty, a judge must find that prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt a person is incapable of rehabilitation.

Taking age into account

Marinucci, now 25, was arrested in February 2010 for her role in the murder of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty of Mt. Pleasant. The prosecution said Marinucci and five others tortured, beat and eventually killed Daugherty after holding her captive for two days.

Two of her co-defendants were sentenced to death. The other three pleaded guilty to lesser charges but are serving sentences that will keep them behind bars for decades.

The prosecution contended Marinucci lured Daugherty to Greensburg, instigated her torture and lobbied for the group to kill her after two days. District Attorney John Peck has said that had Marinucci been 18 — just a few months older than she was — at the time of her arrest, he would have sought the death penalty against her. Pennsylvania law prohibits imposition of the death penalty against juveniles.

During the resentencing hearing in 2015, DeMatt argued Marinucci was a model prisoner who turned her life around while behind bars.

Those are the criteria that opponents of juvenile life sentences said should be used to allow those defendants to eventually win parole.

“Because of where they are developmentally, it is impossible to know where they will be decades later. We want them to be held accountable, but in age-appropriate ways. It's impossible to know when they are a teenager if they are the worst of the worst,” said Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, in Washington.

Lavy said 19 states have since banned life-without-parole sentences for all juvenile offenders.

Pennsylvania is not among those states.

‘Extremely violent'

A revision of the state sentencing guidelines following the 2012 Supreme Court ruling outlawed mandatory life sentences for crimes committed prior to the ruling, although judges still have the discretion to impose them. Instead, juveniles older than 14 are eligible for parole after 35 years, while younger teens convicted of first-degree murder face potential sentences of 25 years to life.

In Westmoreland County, four defendants are serving sentences of life in prison without parole.

They include John Veltre Jr., now 61. He was 16 in 1973 when he killed 2-year-old Sandra Dee Morgan and her 3-month-old sister, Tina, in Monessen. Police said Veltre threw both babies into a wall and stomped on the older child after he raped their mother and left her unconscious in her home. He was 17 when first sentenced.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, who was one of the defense attorneys for Veltre during a retrial in 1978, said that case, along with Marinucci's and those of two men convicted of the 2001 killing of a drug dealer in Bell Township, all warrant life-without-parole sentences.

“We intend to review the cases in light of the appeals court refinements, but the cases we have were all extremely violent and brutal homicides. I thought those sentences were appropriate and without seeing any further evidence, that's still the commonwealth's position,” Peck said. “These people, if they get out of jail, could very well go out and commit other murders.”

Individual approach

According to the state's Department of Corrections, 160 people who were sentenced to life in prison as teens have served at least 30 years behind bars.

Joseph Ligon, Pennsylvania's oldest juvenile lifer, who has been behind bars since 1953, was resentenced in May by a judge in Philadelphia to serve a sentence of 35 years to life that made him immediately eligible for parole.

Ligon, now 80, has said he won't apply for parole.

Since 2012, state corrections officials said 110 juvenile lifers have been resentenced, with 59 being released.

Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said she does not expect Pennsylvania lawmakers to completely discard life-without-parole sentences for either adults or juveniles.

“So we are focusing on what is happening in the courts,” Levick said. “These cases require individual characteristics and there is a very, very high likelihood they will grow up, mature and change.”

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

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> Correction: Aug. 6, 2017

> This story was modified to correct the number of states that have banned life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

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