DA: Teen was 'instigator' in disabled woman death

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Posted: May 09, 2011 2:35 PM
DA: Teen was 'instigator' in disabled woman death

A 17-year-old girl was "the prime instigator" in the torture and slaying of a mentally disabled woman last year, a prosecutor said. But a defense attorney said it's unreasonable to conclude that a high school senior could have influenced five adults to commit "the ultimate act" of murder.

The two views were presented to jurors Monday at the opening of Angela Marinucci's trial. Marinucci, now 18, is charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the death of Jennifer Daugherty, 30.

Daugherty was bound with Christmas decorations, beaten, forced to drink urine and detergent and then stabbed to death in February 2010, prosecutors said. Her body was found two days later, stuffed into a plastic garbage container and shoved beneath a truck in a snow-covered school parking lot.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck told the jury that Marinucci was present for much of the time Daugherty was tortured and killed in a dingy apartment in Greensburg, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. Marinucci sometimes stayed there with her boyfriend, 25-year-old Ricky Smyrnes, and four other adults _ all of whom are charged in the slaying and awaiting trial.

Peck contends Marinucci was jealous of Daugherty and participated in two "family meetings" called by Smyrnes, both of which he said included unanimous votes by all six defendants to kill Daugherty.

"She did not want anybody else vying for Ricky Smyrnes' attention," Peck said of Marinucci, calling her "the prime instigator of the conspiracy."

Daugherty had taken a bus from her hometown, Mount Pleasant, to visit her friend at the apartment and had a medical appointment scheduled in Greensburg.

Instead, by the night of Feb. 9, 2010, the others began harassing Daugherty, a woman described by her family as having the mental capacity of a young teen.

"Although she was a young woman, in many ways she was still a child," Peck said. "She didn't understand the concept of who do you trust and who you couldn't trust."

While Daugherty took a shower, the apartment residents stole $8 from her purse _ which Peck said was her bus fare for the 12-mile trip back to Mount Pleasant _ and a gift card. The suspects spilled makeup and mouthwash in the purse and when Daugherty found out and asked why they did it, "the harassment became more significant," Peck said.

She was punched in the face, kicked and hit with a bar from a towel rack, Peck said. At some point her hands were tied with Christmas lights and her feet tied with tinsel garland, Peck said.

Apparently realizing the situation had escalated, the suspects voted for the first time to kill Daugherty and proceeded to force feed her human waste and laundry bleach, Peck said. When Daugherty got sick and vomited, they took another death vote, he said.

Peck said Daugherty was then forced to write a "suicide" note. Smyrnes then gave a knife to Melvin Knight, 21, and told him to kill Daugherty saying, "I can't do it. You have to do it," Peck said.

Peck intends to pursue the death penalty against Smyrnes, Knight, and Knight's girlfriend, Amber Meidinger, 21. He doesn't intend to seek the death penalty against the two other defendants _ Peggy Miller, 28, and Robert Masters, 36.

Peck can't pursue the death penalty against Marinucci, because she was a juvenile at the time of the crime. Her age was the cornerstone of her attorney's opening statement.

Attorney Michael DeMatt told the jury Smyrnes was the driving force for the killing. "You're gonna heart evidence that doesn't fit ... the Commonwealth's theory" that Marinucci was jealous of Daugherty and wanted her dead, he said.

Instead, DeMatt painted Smyrnes _ a small-time criminal with a history of violence _ as a "flirt" who approached all the women at the apartment at one time or another and who wanted Daugherty dead so he could focus on Marinucci.

He said Masters told police he didn't know how to stop the torture killing.

"How can you ask a 17-year-old high school student to step up and stop this violence from occurring?" DeMatt asked. He said the prosecution wants the jury to believe "this 17-year-old managed to convince five others, adults, to perform the ultimate act _ taking another person's life."

Testimony opened Monday with a woman who saw two men dragging a plastic trash can along the road near where Peck said Smyrnes and Knight dumped Daugherty's body.