Lawyers for defendant in torture-killing allowed to present mental infirmity defense
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Lawyers for a man accused of orchestrating the torture and killing of Jennifer Daugherty in a Greensburg apartment in 2010 will be allowed to present testimony that he is mentally impaired, despite an earlier ruling from the judge barring that defense tactic.
A Westmoreland County jury was supposed to start deliberating the fate of Ricky Smyrnes today, but his lawyer won a last-minute effort to put a psychologist, Alice Applegate, on the stand to say his client is so mentally deficient that he could not form the intent to kill Ms. Daugherty, 30, a mentally challenged woman from Mount Pleasant.
The prosecution says Mr. Smyrnes was the leader of the so-called "Greensburg Six" accused of torturing Ms. Daugherty for two days before she died.
Attorney Mike DeRiso argued that Mr. Smyrnes's intelligence level is so low that it meets the legal definition of mental retardation. His goal is to convince the jury that his client should not be convicted of first-degree murder, sparing him the death penalty that District Attorney John Peck is seeking.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing mentally retarded people violates the Constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway had previously ordered that Mr. DeRiso could not present a mental infirmity defense until the penalty phase of the trial because he said he was not the killer.
But that changed after the prosecution on Tuesday played a recorded statement that Mr. Smyrnes gave to police on Feb. 11, 2010, the day Ms. Daugherty's body was found. In that tape, he said he was under "duress" from a co-defendant, Melvin Knight, during the two days that Ms. Daugherty was tortured and abused before Mr. Knight stabbed her to death. Mr. Smyrnes said he was afraid of Mr. Knight, who pleaded guilty and is on death row.
Mr. DeRiso said that the playing of the tape "opened the window" for him to present a duress defense, allowing him to argue that Mr. Smyrnes' mental incapacity made him susceptible to Mr. Knight's influence and thus unable to form the intent to kill.
Ms. Applegate was expected to spend the rest of today describing her analysis of Mr. Smyrnes. The district attorney's office will then have a chance to present its own expert, probably tomorrow.
First Published February 13, 2013 1:58 pm