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Westmoreland

Forensic scientist testifies in Greensburg murder/torture death penalty trial

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, 6:27 p.m.
Melvin Knight
Melvin Knight

Investigators found no physical evidence that a mentally disabled woman was raped days before she was stabbed to death in 2010, a witness testified Wednesday at the death penalty trial for one of six Greensburg roommates convicted in the murder.

Forensic scientist Sarah Kinneer told jurors an examination of evidence collected during the autopsy of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty revealed no genetic material or DNA to suggest she was raped during the course of her captivity.

“A lack of evidence is not unusual in sexual assault cases,” Kinneer said.

Her testimony came during the third day of the resentencing trial for Melvin Knight, 29, formerly of Swissvale, Allegheny County, who pleaded guilty six years ago to the 2010 torture slaying of Daugherty. Prosecutors said Knight fatally stabbed Daugherty, who had been held captive for more than two days, beaten and tortured before she was killed.

For the second time, the prosecution is seeking a death sentence for Knight. In 2012, he was given the death penalty, but in 2016 a state appeals court vacated that penalty and ordered a new sentencing trial.

Prosecutors contend Knight raped Daugherty during her captivity. While he was never charged with a sexual assault, District Attorney John Peck said jurors should consider it as a reason to impose the death penalty.

Kinneer was questioned at length by Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro about why no physical evidence of rape was found. She testified physical evidence of a sexual assault could have been washed away or eliminated if a rape occurred several days before Daugherty’s death. She also suggested not all sexual assaults result in bodily fluids being left behind.

Knight previously denied raping Daugherty but has not contested his role in the killing. Knight claims he is ineligible for the death penalty because of a low intellect and a history of mental illness.

Investigators contend Daugherty was killed in the bathroom of the Pennsylvania Avenue apartment where she was held by Knight and his roommates. Evidence that attempts were made to clean blood from throughout the apartment were found during the investigation, according to testimony Wednesday from retired Westmoreland County Detective Hugh Shearer.

Knight’s sentencing trial is expected to continue Thursday before Judge Rita Hathaway.

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

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