A Westmoreland County judge has upheld the death penalty imposed against one of the six Greensburg roommates convicted in the 2010 torture slaying of a mentally disabled woman.
Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway ruled evidence presented in a sentencing trial last November was sufficient to support a jury finding that condemned Melvin Knight to death by lethal injection.
Knight, 29, formerly of Swissvale, Allegheny County, pleaded guilty in 2012 to first-degree murder for the stabbing death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty. Prosecutors said Knight and five roommates held Daugherty captive for more than two days, during which time they tortured and finally killed her. Bound in Christmas lights and garland, her body was stuffed in a trash can that was left under a truck in a snow-covered parking lot.
Knight’s first death sentence, imposed in 2012, was overturned by a state appeals court.
Hathaway, in rejecting Knight’s latest appeal, ruled against defense claims that contended evidence of kidnapping, torture and assault were not sufficient grounds to support the death penalty verdict. The judge ruled on Thursday that the evidence showed Knight and his roommates killed Daugherty after days in which she was horrendously humiliated and degraded.
“As the defendants were left unsatisfied after cutting her hair until she was nearly bald, forcing her to drink feces, urine and bleach until nearly her entire body was bruised and forcing her to pen her own suicide note, Jennifer died gasping for air and bleeding internally from multiple stab wounds to her heart and lung,” Hathaway wrote.
The judge also denied a defense claim which said she erroneously allowed jurors to continue deliberations after they reported they were unable to reach a verdict. Three hours later, jurors said Knight should be sentenced to death.
Knight is one of two men sentenced to death for Daugherty’s murder. Another jury found Ricky Smyrnes, 32, guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to the death penalty. Smyrnes, according to prosecutors, was the ring-leader of the group.