Ricky Smyrnes convicted of first-degree murder
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The leader of the so-called "Greensburg Six" was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in the torture-slaying of a mentally challenged woman, and the same jury will return next week to decide if he should be put to death for the crime.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours before finding Ricky Smyrnes, 26, guilty on all counts, including second-degree murder, conspiracy and kidnapping in the death of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, in February 2010.
The Westmoreland County district attorney's office said Mr. Smyrnes incited his five roommates into torturing and abusing Ms. Daugherty for more than two days before holding a "family meeting" to vote on whether she should die.
He then ordered a co-defendant, Melvin Knight, to kill her with a knife. Knight did, pleaded guilty to it and is on death row.
Mr. Smrynes may join him there if District Attorney John Peck has his way during next week's penalty phase.
Key issues will be Mr. Smyrnes' criminal record and his mental capacity.
His lawyer, Mike DeRiso, argued before the jury that his client is mentally impaired and could not form the intent to kill. His witness, forensic psychologist Alice Applegate, said Mr. Smyrnes' IQ is so low that it meets the legal definition for mental retardation.
Ms. Applegate is expected to take the stand again next week to make the same argument in more detail.
Mr. Peck will rely on his own expert, Bruce Wright, a psychiatrist who is expected to present findings that Mr. Smyrnes is not mentally impaired.
Mr. Smyrnes' fate hangs in the balance, because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing people with mental disabilities is a violation of the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Reaction to the verdict was muted because the trial isn't over. Mr. Peck declined comment. Ms. Daugherty's parents hugged in the gallery after the verdict was announced but declined to comment except to say they were happy with the result.
Mr. DeRiso spoke briefly, saying the short deliberation surprised him.
"It came back quicker than any of us anticipated," he said. "I was thinking along the lines of second-degree murder."
Mr. Peck has maintained, however, that Mr. Smyrnes has no mental infirmities and knew precisely what he was doing.
During his closing argument to the jury, he described Mr. Smyrnes as a conniving schemer who manipulated and compelled his roommates, including his girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, to hold Ms. Daugherty captive for two days while abusing and humiliating her. Mr. Peck said it was Mr. Smyrnes who held a series of meetings to decide if she should die. And it was Mr. Smyrnes who told Mr. Knight to stab her to death after other efforts to kill her failed.
Mr. Peck also drove home his point that Mr. Smyrnes had deliberately pitted Ms. Daugherty against Ms. Marinucci in a bid for his affections in what amounted to a twisted love triangle. An enraged Ms. Marinucci repeatedly attacked Ms. Daugherty and spurred the others on to torture, and ultimately murder, her romantic rival.
"It's stupid, it's bizarre," Mr. Peck told the jury. "But this is what happened."
First Published February 15, 2013 12:00 am