The alleged leader of the so-called "Greensburg Six" will go on trial today in the grisly torture slaying of a mentally disabled woman in a squalid Greensburg apartment three years ago.
Ricky Smyrnes, 26, could face the death penalty in the killing of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, on Feb. 11, 2010.
Jury selection began Jan. 14 and concluded last week, and testimony is expected to start this morning in the Westmoreland County courtroom of Judge Rita Hathaway.
Prosecutors say Mr. Smyrnes controlled his five co-defendants to such an extent that he should be held responsible for Daugherty's death, even though another man, Melvin Knight, admitted killing her with a knife after she had endured days of abuse.
Knight, 23, pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced to death in August by a jury after a penalty-phase trial. District Attorney John Peck has indicated he will call him as a witness against Mr. Smyrnes, although Mr. Knight's lawyer has filed an objection.
The first trial in the case ended in 2011 when Angela Marinucci, 20, was found guilty after witnesses said she instigated the torture and killing because she was enraged by Daugherty's romantic interest in Mr. Smyrnes, her boyfriend.
Seventeen at the time of the killing, she was too young for the death penalty and is serving life in prison.
Three other co-defendants -- Amber Meidinger, Robert Masters and Peggy Miller -- are awaiting trial.
Ms. Meidinger, 23, a government witness in the previous cases, could also receive the death penalty but is hoping for leniency.
Mr. Masters, 39, and Ms. Miller, 29, have not testified but have cooperated with police and the prosecution and are expected to plead guilty to lesser charges.
The Smyrnes trial will focus largely on whether he is mentally impaired.
His lawyers say he is, which would make him ineligible for the death penalty. However, Judge Hathaway previously rejected an attempt by his lawyers to have him plead guilty but mentally ill.
The district attorney's office will argue that Mr. Smyrnes is not mentally impaired, saying he was able to form intent and directed the others to torture Ms. Daugherty for more than two days before Mr. Knight stabbed her to death.
Previous testimony indicated that Mr. Smyrnes inflicted only superficial wounds on Ms. Daugherty by trying to slash her wrists, but Mr. Peck's position is that the killing and the events leading up to it were so heinous that Mr. Smyrnes should be executed for his ringleader role.
Both sides will present experts to weigh in on Mr. Smyrnes' mental status; several psychologists are among the 66 potential witnesses.
Also on that list is Ms. Meidinger, the star witness against Ms. Marinucci and Mr. Knight, her former fiance and the father of her child.
She said the abuse and killing were carried out at the direction of Mr. Smyrnes.
She implicated herself, as well, admitting that she beat Ms. Daugherty with a towel rack while forcing her to drink a concoction of urine, feces, chemicals and drugs.
Although Ms. Meidinger admitted during the Marinucci trial that she has mental health problems and doesn't always tell the truth, she is expected to repeat her sordid tale for the Smyrnes jury.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510.