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Westmoreland

Melvin Knight seeks to withdraw guilty plea in Mt. Pleasant woman's killing

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, June 20, 2018, 2:15 p.m.
Melvin Knight
Melvin Knight
Melvin Knight is escorted from the  Westmoreland County Courthouse on Aug. 31, 2012, after being sentenced to death for the murder of Jennifer Daugherty.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Melvin Knight is escorted from the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Aug. 31, 2012, after being sentenced to death for the murder of Jennifer Daugherty.

Lawyers for Melvin Knight filed court documents Wednesday claiming he did not kill a mentally disabled woman eight years ago.

Jury selection for Knight's resentencing trial is scheduled to begin July 9, when prosecutors will seek to have him again condemned to death for his role in the February 2010 torture killing of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty.

Knight is now seeking to withdraw his guilty plea to charges of first-degree murder and other offenses. He initially pleaded guilty in 2012, before he was sentenced to death for his role in Daugherty's slaying.

“He is now proclaiming his innocence on all of the charges to which he previously entered a guilty plea,” according to the court motion filed by lawyers Tim Dawson and Jim Robinson.

Knight, 28, was one of six Greensburg roommates convicted for Daugherty's killing. Prosecutors said Knight stabbed Daugherty in the heart at the end of a two-day period where she was held captive, tortured and possibly raped.

A state appeals court overturned the death sentence in 2016.

Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway said she will conduct a hearing June 26 to consider Knight's request to withdraw his guilty plea.

Dawson and Robinson now contend Knight's plea was not knowing and voluntary.

During Knight's sentencing trial, the prosecution presented a full slate of witnesses who testified to every detail of Daugherty's murder, including testimony from the woman who fathered Knight's daughter.

Amber Meidenger, now 28, also faced a potential death sentence for her role in the murder. She testified against her then fiancé, Knight, and told jurors that she watched him rape Daugherty during her captivity and later stabbed her as she was tied to a chair.

Meidinger later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of third-degree murder and is serving a 40-to-80-year prison sentence.

Ricky Smyrnes, the man prosecutors said was the ring leader of the group of six roommates, was convicted of first-degree murder and, like Knight, was sentenced to death.

Smyrnes, 32, is currently appealing his conviction and death sentence.

Knight's defense is also seeking to bar prosecutors from contending Knight should be put to death because he helped torture Daugherty during her captivity.

“In the first death penalty trial in this case, the prosecution introduced graphic detailed humiliation and disgusting mistreatment of the victim that does not meet the definition of torture,” according to Dawson and Robinson.

They specifically contended that torture does not include activities alleged that Knight and the others dumped flour and other substances on Daugherty's head; forced her to digest feces and urine; stole money from her purse; threw soda bottles at her head; cut her hair; and tossed her clothes from a window.

“Admission of this evidence will only serve to flame the emotions of the jury,” the lawyers wrote.

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

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