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Greensburg murder suspects described as misfits

| Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010

About a week ago, neighbors saw 17-year-old Angela Marinucci strolling down North Pennsylvania Avenue in Greensburg wearing a tiara.

Her companion, 23-year-old Ricky V. Smyrnes, had been accused of beating his mother, his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend.

The pair lived in a North Pennsylvania apartment with Peggy Miller, 26, a mentally challenged woman who met a man from Michigan with mental health issues on MySpace. Miller, who had lived in homeless shelters in Greensburg and Uniontown, compelled Robert Loren Masters Jr., 36, to move to Greensburg.

Sharing the apartment, which had no furniture, was another couple, 20-year-olds Melvin Knight and Amber C. Meidinger.

The six were seen walking to the library, thrift shops, a community center for the mentally ill and the library, all in downtown Greensburg. They slept on the floor and subsisted on welfare checks and disability payments, police said.

Into the chaos stepped a visitor, Jennifer Daugherty, 30, of Greensburg, a mentally challenged woman who was tortured to death by the six misfits, according to police.

Police said Daugherty died after more than 33 hours of hell at the hands of people she considered friends.

They shaved her head and smeared her face with nail polish. They forced Daugherty to drink and eat urine, detergent, medication, spices and vegetable oil. They beat her with a towel rack, a vacuum hose and a crutch. They wrapped Christmas lights around her. Knight stabbed her in the chest, side and neck, an affidavit said. Smyrnes told police he cut her in the wrist. The suspects implicated each other in the murder, police said.

Knight and Smyrnes stuffed the victim into a trash can and dragged it a few blocks to the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School, police allege. It was found about 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

Police said they are working to determine how the six lives twisted together to end in murder. Westmoreland District Attorney John Peck said it is "too early" to know whether he will seek the death penalty against some or all of the suspects.

Greensburg police Chief Walter "Wally" Lyons said jealousy may have sparked the fatal frenzy. "As far as I know, there may have been some issue between the victim and one of the girls over Ricky (Smyrnes)," Lyons said.

Authorities believe that what began as disparaging comments against Daugherty inexplicably escalated into violence.

Susan Goldberg, a psychologist at Duquesne University specializing in criminal behavior, said the alleged murder likely was triggered by the presence of one strong individual in the group.

"I'm suggesting there is a leader," Goldberg said. "Most murders do not rise to this level of sadism. And it's difficult to imagine all six individuals exhibiting the same sadistic tendencies to this degree."

By allegedly dumping the body in the school lot, the suspects were "thumbing their noses" at society, Goldberg said.

Criminal psychologist L. Thomas Kurcharski of John Jay College in New York City said the killing suggested "a mob phenomenon" with events "spinning out of control."

Neighbor Jim O'Brien said that when he saw Marinucci, a Greensburg Salem student, earlier this week, "she was wearing like a princess crown, a tiara," he said. "I thought, 'You have to be kidding me.' "

Neighbors usually saw the teen with Smyrnes.

Bonnie Gordon of Jeannette said she incurred the wrath of Smyrnes when she broke up with him in June 2006. Smyrnes broke a water pitcher over her head and tried to rape her, according to a protection from abuse court order filed by Gordon.

"I asked him to leave," Gordon said in an interview Saturday. "He went berserk on me."

When police were searching for the identity of the dead woman left in the snow-covered parking lot, "my mom thought it was me at first because we're the same age," Gordon said. "When I heard about it, I thought it could have been me. I don't understand how it happened to such an innocent female."

Gordon said Smyrnes was always looking for women so they could support him. "That's what he did with me. He was physically abusive if he wasn't on his meds," Gordon said.

Gordon met Smyrnes at a personal care home in Scottdale for the mentally ill. She said Smyrnes, who was bipolar, also went to Pathways in Mt. Pleasant, a short-stay mental health treatment center.

Smyrnes' ex-wife, Karena Smyrnes, filed a PFA last fall while the couple were living in McKeesport with their child. She said Smyrnes had abused her sexually, and when she told him to stop he punched her repeatedly in the face, threatened her with a knife and choked her.

In 2008, Audrey Smyrnes filed a PFA against her son after she went to his apartment for items he had stolen from her North Huntingdon home. "He pushed me, screamed at me and threatened to kill me," she wrote.

Neighbor Melissa O'Brien usually saw Smyrnes and the other roommates walking or yelling on the front porch of the apartment. "We'd see them walk by, pushing a shopping cart. It looked like a lot of stuff, bags, were inside. It was piled up with stuff," she said.

Adam Mitchell of the Vega Star tattoo parlor on North Pennsylvania Avenue said Masters and Daugherty came to check out tattoos about three weeks ago, but neither got one.

"They were kind of weird," Mitchell said. "They wouldn't look at you."

Mitchell often saw some of the suspects with Daugherty. "She was, of all of them, the most polite. I thought maybe she was hanging around with the wrong kids," he said.

The suspects frequently went to Greensburg Hempfield Area Library on Pennsylvania Avenue to post to their pages on MySpace, a computer networking site.

On her MySpace page, Meidinger described herself as "layed ba(c)k female easy goin(g), I love to talk (a)nd help ..."

She claimed that she was "8 weeks pregnant (a)nd I got a fience (fiance), but people seem to get in the way of a relationship, but I ain't going to let dat (that) put me down ... I know I'm a gud women..."

Family members of Peggy Miller said they tried to get her help, but she pushed them away, and her criminal record for theft and fighting prevented her from getting into some programs. Miller, a 2001 graduate of Mt. Pleasant Area High School, met Masters via MySpace and he moved to Greensburg last fall.

Miller moved into the North Pennsylvania Avenue apartment last month. On Thursday, she sent a text-message to one relative, saying she was pregnant.

"I don't know whether or not to believe she was pregnant because she was always performing home pregnancy tests, but she was never pregnant. She had emotional problems, was very impressionable and would have gone along with the group," said a relative, who requested anonymity.

Librarian Cesare Muccari said the group came to the library after visiting West Place, a drop-in center for the mentally ill on Main Street.

He banned Marinucci a year ago after she got into a fight with other patrons. Other times, librarians called police when some of the men in the group got into arguments. He said Smyrnes took out DVDs, which he never returned on time.

"At one point, I personally told Angela she should watch out who she hangs out with. Obviously, she didn't follow my advice," Muccari said.

Staff writer Richard Robbins contributed to this report.

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