Co-defendant describes brutal Pa. torture death

AP News
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Posted: May 13, 2011 9:51 AM
Co-defendant describes brutal Pa. torture death

One of six people charged with torturing and killing a mentally disabled western Pennsylvania woman testified that another defendant now on trial had the victim wrapped with a string of lights so she would "look like a Christmas tree."

Amber Meidinger, 21, of Greensburg, also testified Thursday that then-17-year-old Angela Marinucci told another suspect to kill Jennifer Daugherty after the victim had survived slash and stab wounds in the February 2010 attack.

Meidinger testified that her boyfriend, Melvin Knight, 21, and another defendant, Ricky Smyrnes, 25, used the Christmas lights to choke Daugherty, 30. After she was dead, they strung them around Daugherty's body because Marinucci "wanted her to look like a Christmas tree," Meidinger said.

Meidinger was scheduled to return to the stand for cross-examination by Marinucci's attorney, Michael DeMatt, on Friday.

DeMatt acknowledges Marinucci was involved in the abuse and present for Daugherty's killing, but has argued against the theory of Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck that Marinucci instigated the savage treatment of Daugherty.

Prosecutors contend Marinucci was jealous because Daugherty claimed to be pregnant by Smyrnes, who several witnesses have since testified was Marinucci's boyfriend at the time.

DeMatt told the jury in his opening statement that Smyrnes was the ringleader and killed Daugherty so he could focus on Marinucci. He scoffed at the idea that the five adult defendants would do the bidding of Marinucci, now 18, who was then just a high school senior.

But three county prison inmates have testified Marinucci bragged and made wisecracks about her role in the killing and torture, in which Daugherty was beaten with a towel rack, punched, kicked and forced to drink a blended concoction of urine, feces, laundry bleach and prescription drugs.

When Daugherty vomited instead of dying from the concoction, Smyrnes handed Knight a knife and had him stab Daugherty in the neck and chest, though Meidinger said Smyrnes also slashed the woman's wrists.

Meidinger said she has no deal with prosecutors and said it was her idea to testify.

"I wanted to speak the truth to the family," she said.

Peck has said he plans to pursue the death penalty against Smyrnes, Knight and Meidinger, who testified that she also laughed and made fun of Daugherty and hit her with a towel rack so she would drink the foul mixture. They're scheduled for trial later this year along with two other defendants, Peggy Miller, 28, and Robert Masters, 36, who were present but allegedly had lesser roles and will not face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.

Marinucci is being tried separately because she had tried to move the charges against her to juvenile court. Though she dropped that fight and is being tried as an adult, she cannot face the death penalty if convicted because she was juvenile at the time of the crime.