2013-03-07 / Local & State

W. Pa. Man Gets Death In Disabled Woman’s Torture

By Joe Mandak


GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) – A Greensburg man who prosecutors say orchestrated the group torture and murder of a mentally disabled woman three years ago was sentenced to death Thursday.

Ricky Smyrnes, 26, organized five others in holding 30- year-old Jennifer Daugherty captive in a dingy apartment for more than two days as she was tormented, humiliated and finally killed by people she initially believed were her friends, prosecutors say.

Smyrnes was convicted earlier this month of first-degree murder and other crimes in Daugherty’s death at an apartment Smyrnes shared with others in February 2010.

The Mount Pleasant woman's hair was cut off, she was beaten over the head with a towel rack, and had water, oatmeal and spices poured over her. She was eventually tied up with Christmas lights and tinsel, compelled to write a suicide note, then forced to drink a cocktail of human waste, bleach and prescription drugs. When that didn't kill her, Smyrnes convened a “family meeting” at which the six voted to kill Daugherty and then Smyrnes instructed co- defendant Melvin Knight to kill her, District Attorney John Peck said.

Knight, now 23, stabbed Daugherty and then helped Smyrnes choke her with the Christmas lights to ensure she was dead. He pleaded guilty to the crimes last year and was sentenced to death.

Defense attorney Terrance Faye promised to appeal Smyrnes’ sentence, saying that the jury didn’t give enough consideration to Smyrnes’ busive upbringing and that the prosecution was wrong to argue that torture was an aggravated circumstance to qualify Smyrnes for the death penalty because he, personally, didn’t kill Daugherty.

Faye argued that Smyrnes suffered from multiple personalities and other mental problems stemming from his background of physical and sexual abuse as the child of a drug addicted prostitute and a gang member.

In arriving at the sentence, the jury also weighed Smyrnes’ extensive criminal record, including the rape of a grade- school classmate when he was 11, and considered, but rejected, evidence that he was legally “mentally retarded” as defined in a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The decision bars executing such people as cruel and unusual punishment.

Peck told jurors that Smyrnes deserved the death penalty because it is reserved for “the worst of the worst murders and against the worst of the worst defendants.”

Smyrnes was the only one of the six defendants who knew Daugherty when he invited her to visit him. Smyrnes was dating a 17- year-old, Angela Marinucci, at the time and, the prosecution says, used Daugherty to make the teen jealous, which fueled the eventual torture.

Marinucci also has been convicted of first-degree murder and is serving life in prison. Because of her age at the time of the crime, she could not get the death penalty.

Daugherty's sister, Joy Burkholder, said Thursday that justice isn't served by either a death sentence or life in prison. “It really isn’t very different to me” because many inmates spend decades on death row, she said.

Three other defendants are scheduled for trial later this year.

Smyrnes becomes the 198th person on Pennsylvania's death row, even as Gov. Tom Corbett signed two death warrants also on Thursday including one for Michael Travaglia, a convicted cop-killer who was first sentenced to death in 1981.

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