Updated:GREENSBURG, Pa.,None - A district attorney will pursue the death penalty against three of five adult suspects charged with torturing and murdering a mentally disabled Westmoreland County woman.
PDF: View Criminal Complaint SLIDESHOW: Images Of 6 Suspects In Brutal Slaying
District Attorney John Peck said Monday that Ricky Smyrnes, 24, Melvin Knight, 20, and Amber Meidinger, 20, all of Greensburg, should be executed if they're convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Jennifer Daugherty.
The body of Daugherty, 30, was found stuffed in a trash container in the Greensburg-Salem Middle School parking lot Feb. 11 after she was last seen Feb. 8, when authorities believe she first went to an apartment where Smyrnes and Knight lived.
Peck said in a statement Monday that the trio deserves death because of two aggravating circumstances: Daugherty was allegedly tortured, and she was killed in the commission of other felonies, kidnapping and aggravated assault.
Daugherty's father, Bobby Murphy, talked to Channel 11 News about the decision to seek the death penalty.
"I'm from Texas, and we put them down in Texas. Pennsylvania's is known not to do it," Murphy said. "Things need to change in Pennsylvania. You got to start putting them down."
Jennifer Daugherty was forced to drink urine and detergent, and was beaten and tied up with holiday lights over a period of about 36 hours. She was later forced to write a purported suicide note and then was stabbed in the apartment, police said.
"Jennifer was a fun-loving person, every person she met was her friend," said Murphy. "She loved life, she didn't deserve this."
Smyrnes' attorney, Scott Avolio, said he believes he'll be able to prove his client's mental capacity is so limited he should not be executed. Avolio said Smyrnes' IQ is 67, based on a test by a county agency a few months before the killing to determine whether he had the ability to care for his child, who was in county custody at the time.
Such a low IQ may mean Smyrnes cannot be executed under a U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the execution of mentally disabled people, Avolio said.
"I still think there's a significant mitigating factor in Ricky's defense due to his extremely low mental functioning," Avolio said.
At a preliminary hearing in March, Peck played recorded statements from Smyrnes and Knight in which the men acknowledged Daugherty's beating and death. Smyrnes said he previously had sex with Daugherty and that the suspects and three others in the apartment became angry because Daugherty again wanted to have sex with Smyrnes.
One of the others arrested in the killing was Smyrnes' girlfriend, Angela Marinucci, 17, who is charged as an adult but under Pennsylvania law cannot be executed because of her age.
Peck declined to pursue the death penalty against Robert Loren Masters Jr., 36, of Greensburg, and Peggy Darlene Miller, 27, of Mount Pleasant Township, though they face the same charges as the others: criminal homicide, kidnapping, aggravated assault and three related conspiracy counts.
Knight acknowledged stabbing Daugherty on Smyrnes' orders, saying he was afraid that Smyrnes would harm him or Meidinger – who was pregnant with Knight's child -- if he didn't kill Daugherty.
Criminal homicide is a broad charge that gives a jury the option of convicting the person of first-degree murder or several lesser homicide counts.
Attorneys for Miller and Masters have argued their clients were present but didn't participate in torturing Daugherty. Police have said all the suspects have given statements implicating one another.
Previous Stories: May 18, 2010: Greensburg Slaying,Torture Case Suspects Appear In Court March 4, 2010: Daugherty Family Distraught Over Suspects' Actions In Court February 21, 2010: Vigil For Jennifer Daugherty Draws Large Turnout February 19, 2010: Suspect Arrested Carrying Rubber Gloves, Hammer Prior To Being Charged In Greensburg Homicide February 15, 2010: Mother Of Greensburg Killing Suspect Tried To Sell Daughter February 15, 2010: Friends, Family Remember Woman Tortured, Killed In Greensburg February 15, 2010: Greensburg Woman Tortured, Killed; 6 Arrested February 12, 2010: Greensburg Homicide Victim's Sister: 'She Trusted Everyone, Loved Scary Movies'