Smyrnes officially headed to death row

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GREENSBURG, Pa. —

The family members of a woman who was tortured for days before she was killed in Greensburg three years ago thanked each jury member individually as they left the courtroom Thursday night.

The jury of 12 unanimously decided to sentence Ricky Smyrnes to death.  Smyrnes, 26, was convicted in February of first-degree murder and other charges related to the death of Jennifer Daugherty, 30.

Channel 11's Courtney Brennan reported that some of the jury members appeared to have been crying after making the difficult decision.

"They probably saw the most horrific things they will see in their life this last month," said Daughtery's sister Joy Burkeholder. "It takes a pretty special group of people to hang with that. That's a hard job."

Westmoreland County prosecutors said Smyrnes and five others conspired to kill the woman after holding her captive and humiliating her for more than two days in a dingy Greensburg apartment in February 2010.

Before deciding on his sentence, the jury deliberated for almost four hours and ruled that Smyrnes is not mentally challenged.

Smyrnes' attorney argued he shouldn't be executed because of his low IQ, but the jury rejected claims that Smyrnes fit the definition of "mentally retarded" in a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed executing such people as cruel and unusual punishment.

“It’s going to cost PA taxpayers four times as much to house a death row inmate than a lifer who’s not going to get executed,” defense attorney Michael DeRiso said.

After several hours, the jury then decided to sentence Smyrnes to death.

"There was an enormous amount of effort. They are the only reason we are successful in this case today," said District Attorney John Peck.

Defense attorney Terri Faye made a few brief comments after the sentencing, saying only that the "jury got it wrong."

“I told him, ‘I’m sorry, I tried as hard as I could,’” Faye said. “He told me he knew.”

Smyrnes was formally sentenced to death Friday.

Co-defendant Amber Meidinger also faces the death penalty in this case, something Daugherty’s family would also like to see.