Psychologist testifies to awful childhood of convicted murderer of Jennifer Daugherty
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A forensic psychologist testified for the defense in a Westmoreland County courtroom on Monday in an attempt to spare convicted killer Ricky Smyrnes the death penalty for the 2010 slaying of Jennifer Daugherty.
In the third day of the penalty phase of Mr. Smyrnes' trial, Alice Applegate said he endured a horrible childhood filled with abuse and neglect until he was taken in by the Smyrnes family in North Huntingdon at age 10.
Born to a drug-addicted Philadelphia prostitute and a Pittsburgh gang member, Ricky Smyrnes moved into and out of foster homes as a young child and was treated for mental health disorders as early as age 4, Ms. Applegate testified.
The Smyrnes family provided the first stability he had known.
"I think the Smyrneses did a tremendous job," Ms. Applegate said.
But it wasn't enough to reverse the trauma already done to him, according to her review of his psychiatric history. He was twice adjudicated delinquent at age 11, once for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl and again for burglarizing and ransacking his neighbor's house.
Ms. Applegate cited a litany of psychological problems Mr. Smyrnes increasingly exhibited as he entered puberty, including multiple personalities and delusions. In addition to his emotional and mental health issues, she said he also is mildly retarded, a key issue in the case that she had raised during the guilt phase of the trial as the defense tried to save him from a first-degree murder conviction.
Her testimony is focused now on convincing the jury that Mr. Smyrnes should not be executed because of his reduced mental capacity. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that executing mentally disabled people is a violation of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
District Attorney John Peck is arguing for the death penalty and is expected to introduce testimony that Mr. Smyrnes is not mentally impaired. At trial, he described Mr. Smyrnes as the "conniving" leader of five other roommates, all charged with abusing and humiliating Daugherty for two days before one of them, Melvin Knight, stabbed her to death.
He and Mr. Smyrnes then stuffed her in a trash can and dumped the can in a school parking lot.
The penalty phase is expected to continue late into the week, with Mr. Peck expected to present his own expert to counter Ms. Applegate.
Mr. Smyrnes is the third member of the six charged to go on trial. Two have already been convicted. Knight is on death row. Angela Marinucci, Mr. Smyrnes' girlfriend and Daugherty's romantic rival for his affections, is serving life in prison for her role as an instigator.
Knight's former fiancee, Amber Meidinger, has testified at all three trials without a plea deal and is awaiting disposition. Two others, Peggy Miller and Robert Masters, are expected to enter pleas.
First Published February 26, 2013 12:00 am