Decision on Smyrnes' death sentence hinges on mental impairment
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Is Ricky Smyrnes mentally impaired? If he is, the state can't kill him. If he isn't, he's likely to end up on death row.
That's the central debate expected to begin today in a Greensburg courtroom over the fate of Mr. Smyrnes, convicted last week in the 2010 torture slaying of Jennifer Daugherty in a Greensburg apartment.
The jury agreed with District Attorney John Peck that Mr. Smyrnes, 26, manipulated his five roommates into abusing Daugherty for more than two days before a co-defendant, Melvin Knight, stabbed her on Feb. 11, 2010.
Mr. Peck said Mr. Smyrnes pitted Daugherty, 30, against his girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, 20, in a bid for his affection. An enraged Marinucci then attacked Daugherty and spurred on the others to torture and kill her.
Marinucci is in prison for life. Knight, 23, is on death row. Mr. Smyrnes will join him there if Mr. Peck has his way during the penalty phase, which starts this morning before the same jury.
Mr. Peck didn't want to talk about specific strategies last week, but he is expected to argue that Mr. Smyrnes deserves to die because he was the leader of the group and they did what he said. He also will introduce Mr. Smyrnes' criminal history, which includes assault.
Mr. Smyrnes' lawyer, Terrance Faye, is expected to introduce testimony about abuse Mr. Smyrnes suffered in his childhood and to attempt to convince the jurors that he is mentally retarded. The Supreme Court has held that executing mentally retarded people violates the Constitution.
Alice Applegate, a psychologist who testified for the defense at the trial, will present her findings that Mr. Smrynes' IQ is so low that he cannot function in normal society and so cannot be executed.
During the trial, she said he is "mildly retarded." The defense used her testimony to try to avoid a first-degree murder conviction, but the jury rejected the argument.
One of Mr. Smyrnes' lawyers, Mike DeRiso, told the media after the verdict that Ms. Applegate will testify in much greater detail about his deficiencies at the penalty phase.
Mr. Peck will counter with his own expert, Bruce Wright, a psychiatrist who is expected to testify that Mr. Smyrnes is not retarded or impaired and knew what he was doing in orchestrating the abuse and murder.
The penalty phase will start today and stop at noon Wednesday because Judge Rita Hathaway is going to a judicial conference. Proceedings are to resume Monday.
First Published February 19, 2013 12:00 am