Westmoreland County jury begins penalty phase for man convicted in torture-killing

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Convicted killer Ricky Smyrnes raped an elementary school classmate when he was 11 and burglarized and ransacked his neighbor's house a month later, witnesses said Tuesday in the first day of the penalty phase of his murder trial in Westmoreland County.

Mr. Smyrnes was convicted last week in the torture slaying of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, in 2010, the third member of six defendants to face trial in her death.

Now the same jury must decide if he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

In arguing for the death penalty, District Attorney John Peck began introducing Mr. Smyrnes' criminal history, which dates to the summer of 1997, when he was 11.

A 26-year-old woman told the jury that in June of that year, when she was 10, she visited Ricky and his adoptive family at their North Huntingdon home to go swimming in their pool. When she and Ricky were alone in the basement, she said, he forced himself on her, raping her on a couch.

When she shoved him off of her and ran away, he became enraged and threatened to kill her.

After a police investigation the following year, Mr. Smyrnes was charged with rape and related offenses. He was later adjudicated delinquent on a charge of aggravated indecent assault, a detective testified.

The Post-Gazette does not name the victims in sex cases.

A month after that incident, Ricky broke into his neighbor's house, vandalized their car, ransacked the rooms and stole commemerative coins, expensive knives, guitars, bullets and other items and squirreled them away in a pup tent he had set up in the Smyrnes house.

Mr. Smyrnes later confessed to North Huntingdon police and was again adjudicated delinquent.

The neighbor, Virginia Glagola, said Ricky often played with her children and she had never had any trouble with him until that incident.

"He was a friend," she said. "He was like a son."

In his opening statement, Mr. Peck said Mr. Smyrnes deserves to die because of his leadership role in orchestrating the death of Ms. Daugherty. The mentally challenged woman was held captive in a Greensburg apartment for two days in February 2010, tortured, beaten and then stabbed to death. Her body, wrapped in Christmas lights, was stuffed into a garbage can and left in a school parking lot.

Although Mr. Peck said the other five defendants contributed and two of them have been convicted, Mr. Peck said Mr. Smyrnes was the ringleader who set the events in motion.

In trying to spare his life, Mr. Smyrnes' lawyer, Terrance Faye, told the jurors that Mr. Smyrnes is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally ill. She described an early childhood in Philadelphia filled with misery, abuse and neglect, saying his own mother "pimped him out" for sex at a young age in exchange for drugs and his father and uncle molested him.

"Ricky's childhood was total chaos," she said.

The Smyrnes family adopted him in 1994, despite a warning that he was "broken and can't be fixed," Ms. Faye said. In addition to his tormented early life, she said he suffers from numerous psychological problems, including multiple personality disorder, and hears voices in his head.

She also said he is mildly retarded and told the jury she will again present testimony from Alice Applegate, a forensic psychologist who testified last week, that Mr. Smyrnes' mental abilities are abysmally low.

His mental capacity is key to the case because the Supreme Court has held that executing retarded people is a violation of the Constitution.

If Ms. Faye can convince the jury that he is truly mentally retarded, he cannot be executed.

The penalty phase will continue Wednesday morning but stop by early afternoon because the judge, Rita Hathaway, is going out of town for a judicial conference. The case will proceed next Monday morning.

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