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Westmoreland

Missing expert report sought before new sentencing trial for Melvin Knight

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, 5:39 p.m.
Melvin Knight
Melvin Knight

Attorneys for Melvin Knight have two weeks to give prosecutors details collected from a taxpayer-funded expert hired to prepare trial evidence to determine if he again gets a death sentence for the 2010 torture slaying of a mentally disabled woman.

During a hearing Friday before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway, defense lawyers Tim Dawson and James Robinson said that despite paying a New York expert for her work over the last year, they have yet to receive any written reports regarding Knight’s case.

“It’s a dispute over money, and we never got a report. She asked for an additional $5,000,” Robinson said.

Knight, 28, formerly of Swissvale, Allegheny County, is on death row after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for his role in killing 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection. A state appeals court overturned his death sentence and ordered a new trial to determine his penalty.

Knight was one of six Greensburg roommates convicted in Daugherty’s torture and killing. Prosecutors said she was held captive for more than two days and stabbed to death. Her body was found bound in Christmas lights and garland and stuffed into a trash can that was discarded under a truck in a snow-covered parking lot.

In preparing for Knight’s second sentencing trial, which is scheduled for jury selection to begin Oct. 29, the defense hired three experts to assist with preparing the case in which they will seek life prison term without the possibility for parole.

The judge last year authorized the defense to pay New York mitigation specialist Jennifer Wynn up to $10,000 to research Knight’s background in preparation for the trial. According to court records, Wynn was paid $7,117 from Westmoreland County for her work. Details about Knight she learned were included in reports generated by two other defense-hired experts, information that was shared with prosecutors.

Wynn was not expected to be called as a witness at trial, Dawson said.

Wynn, who is listed as an associate professor of criminal justice at City University in New York, could not be reached for comment.

The prosecution needs to see all of the information compiled by Wynn in order for its expert to prepare a report that will be used to attempt to convince jurors to impose a death sentence, District Attorney John Peck and Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro said.

“We need to see the same stuff their experts used,” Ciaramitaro said.

The judge ordered defense attorneys to contact Wynn in an effort to have her detail her work. Prosecutors have to give the defense reports from its own experts at the start of the trial, the judge ruled.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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