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Jurors hear confession describing Daugherty's slaying


GREENSBURG, Pa. - Jurors in the death-penalty trial of Melvin Knight heard a taped confession he gave police after the battered body of Jennifer Daugherty of Mt. Pleasant was found in a trash can dumped in an icy parking lot on the morning of Feb. 11, 2010.

In the tape played Friday morning, Knight said that he and four other roommates staying in a Greensburg apartment held the 30-year-old mentally challenged woman captive for more than two days while they took orders from their leader, Ricky Smyrnes, 26, of McKeesport.

They tortured her, beat her and humiliated before stabbing her, Knight’s fiancee, Amber Meidinger, testified earlier this week. Knight told police that he repeatedly stabbed Daugherty at Smyrnes’ behest. Knight said he feared Smyrnes, his former cell mate at the Westmoreland County Prison.

Knight, 22, formerly of Swissvale, described how he plunged a knife into Daugherty’s chest and slashed her throat.

“I hesitated for a little bit and then I stabbed her,” Knight told police.

On the tape, Knight can be heard speaking slowly, with little emotion.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck is seeking the death penalty against Knight. He pleaded guilty in April to first- and second-degree homicide, kidnapping and two counts of conspiracy.

County Detective Richard Kranitz told jurors that Knight spoke with police for more than two hours and gave a taped confession that detailed his role in the slaying.

Knight said he had been sharing a cell with Smyrnes a month earlier.

“I know Ricky. . . since I was locked up with Ricky in the Westmoreland County Jail and Ricky could be a very intimidating, scary dude when his temper gets the best of him and I didn’t wanna be on the wrong side of him. So I just did what he had asked of me,” Knight told police.

The interview ran from about 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 11 to about 12:15 a.m. Feb. 12, 2010.

Knight confessed to giving Daugherty his urine to drink as the group tortured the victim.

Knight also implicated his fiancee, Amber Meidinger, Smyrnes, and three others in the slaying.

Knight said he followed Smyrnes’ direction to protect Meidinger, who was pregnant with their child. The baby was born in September 2010 while her parents were being held in the county prison.

“Well, if we wouldn’t do what Ricky asked us to do, we would have been in the same predicament as Jennifer; tied up, gagged, stuff like that,” Knight told police. “I had a woman who already had one miscarriage; don’t need another one. Me, this is my first child, I don’t need to lose this child. So I was just doing it. I had the protection of me and my fiancée. “

Testimony has ended for the day in the trial being held before Judge Rita Hathaway. Prosecutors will resume presenting their case on Monday morning.

This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.