Grieving family addresses jury in Smyrnes case
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Jennifer Daugherty's mother Wednesday told a jury what every parent who has lost a child knows: The pain does not end.
It isn't triggered by anniversaries, relieved by kind words, assuaged by memorials. It just is.
"For me," said her mother, Denise Murphy, "it's pretty much all the time."
She, her husband, Bobby Murphy, and her daughter, Joy Burkholder, took the stand in the penalty phase of the trial for Ricky Smyrnes, the man convicted of killing Daugherty in 2010.
The jury last week agreed with Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck that Mr. Smyrnes, 26, manipulated his five roommates, including his girlfriend, into torturing Daugherty, 30, for two days in a rancid Greensburg apartment before one of them stabbed her to death.
Now the district attorney's office wants the same jury to impose the death penalty.
Mr. Smyrnes' lawyers are asking for life in prison.
Both are presenting their sides before Judge Rita Hathaway in a proceeding that will extend into next week.
Mr. Peck on Tuesday recounted Mr. Smyrnes' criminal history, which includes a rape charge when he was just 11, and Wednesday his team presented victim impact statements.
Daugherty's family said the mentally challenged woman was trusting and naive, even at age 30, and wanted to be part of everything going on around her.
"She was desperate to have friends," said Ms. Burkholder, who took her sister into her Mount Pleasant home in 2006 to live with her family after Daugherty moved back to Pennsylvania from Texas. "She had the best of intentions in everything she did. She believed in the best in every person."
Ms. Burkholder said having her sister around in addition to her own two young children was "like having a third child," but she and her husband gave her small household jobs and tried to help her become more independent.
It was sometimes hard to have patience, though. On the day Daugherty took a bus to Greensburg to visit "friends" who would end up murdering her, Ms. Burkholder said she was short with her sister on the phone because she was late for work.
Daugherty later called back and left a voice message saying she was sorry.
It was the last time Ms. Burkholder heard her sister's voice.
As the days went by with no word from Daugherty, the family grew increasingly concerned. When news broke on Feb. 11 that a body had been discovered stuffed in a trash can in a school parking lot, Ms. Burkholder said she threw up.
"I was praying to God it wasn't my sister," she said. "It shouldn't have been her."
Like her mother, she said the grief endures regardless of outside events or the passage of time. "Every day is hard," she said. "It isn't just the holidays."
She said her mother has long endured the guilt of wondering if there was something she could have done to save Daugherty.
Bobby Murphy, Daugherty's stepfather, said his wife has suffered through each day of the trial, as she has two previous trials for Mr. Smyrnes' co-defendants, Angela Marinucci, 20, and Melvin Knight, 23.
Ms. Marinucci, who as Mr. Smyrnes' girlfriend compelled the others to attack Daugherty because she saw her as a romantic rival, is serving life in prison. Mr. Knight, who stabbed Daugherty, is on death row.
"Nobody sees this, but when we leave court, my wife is in tears," Mr. Murphy said.
The trial will take a break for the rest of this week while the judge attends a conference. It will resume Monday and is likely to take most of the week as both sides argue over Mr. Smyrnes' mental capacity.
The defense team says he's mentally disabled, which means he cannot be executed under the law. The prosecution is expected to present evidence that he is not mentally disabled.
First Published February 21, 2013 12:00 am