Pa. teen guilty in disabled woman's torture-murder

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2011 7:55 PM
Pa. teen guilty in disabled woman's torture-murder

A Pennsylvania teenager was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and lesser murder charges in the torture killing of a mentally disabled woman who prosecutors said was targeted by the teen who viewed the victim as a rival for the romantic affection of a man.

Later this year, the man faces the possible death penalty at trial for his alleged role.

A Westmoreland County jury deliberated less than four hours Thursday before convicting Angela Marinucci in the February 2010 death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty after eight days of testimony. The murder conviction alone carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole as Marinucci couldn't face the death penalty because she was just 17 at the time.

District Attorney John Peck said Marinucci instigated the 36-hour ordeal in a dingy apartment in Greensburg, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, that was shared by five other defendants awaiting separate trials.

Peck charges they beat Daugherty with a vacuum hose, a crutch and a towel rack _ as well as their fists _ and forced her to undress while pouring water, oatmeal and spices on her _ including onion powder thrown in her eyes. She was then forced to drink a cocktail of human waste, laundry bleach and prescription drugs, which the defendants reportedly thought would kill her.

When it didn't, Peck said she was stabbed by defendant Melvin Knight, 21, apparently on orders from Ricky Smyrnes, 25, the alleged focus of the deadly romantic rivalry.

Peck is pursuing the death penalty against both as well as Knight's girlfriend, Amber Meidinger, 21, who testified against Marinucci and acknowledged mixing and forcing Daugherty to drink the concoction.

"I think that we have a little bit of justice for Jennifer," Daugherty's mother, Denise Murphy told reporters. "It doesn't make is any easier for us, but it does show that the law works."

Murphy and several other family members chatted, shook hands and hugged the jurors, some of whom cried as they were escorted from the courtroom by sheriff's deputies. Each was handed a rubber bracelet in honor of Daugherty inscribed with the phrases, "You've got a friend" and "Keep me in your heart."

"Angela Marinucci is a dangerous woman and will luckily never be free," Daugherty's sister, Joy Burkholder, said. "Her family has experienced a loss and are victims of this horrific crime as well. My family and I extend our sympathies to them."

Marinucci's mother, Jeannine Green, was present for much of the trial, but not the verdict. Defense attorney Michael DeMatt promised an appeal without offering specifics or comments on other aspects of the trial.

Peck said the case was difficult because Marinucci didn't personally kill Daugherty, but was charged as an accomplice and co-conspirator. The case rested largely on statements Marinucci made to several county prison inmates since her arrest shortly after the murder last year _ as well as some early statements to police and Meidinger's testimony.

"The accomplice end of it was difficult" to present to the jury, Peck said. "Secondarily, we had witnesses to statements from the defendant who were incarcerated themselves."

Peck said he doesn't believe Marinucci's conviction heralds an outcome in the other cases _ even against Smyrnes, Knight and Meidinger _ who are accused of the most active role in the torture. "Every case stands and falls on its own facts," Peck said.

In Marinucci's case, DeMatt argued it was unlikely the five adult defendants would do the bidding of Marinucci, who was a 17-year-old high school senior at the time. The other two defendants are Peggy Miller, 28, and Robert Masters, 38, another couple who lived at the apartment and are charged largely because they allegedly helped keep Daugherty there, though they're also accused of participating in some of the abuse.

Peck contends Marinucci was jealous because she and the victim were involved with Smyrnes, although Marinucci testified she dated him only briefly in 2008.

But inmates who've spoken with Marinucci and a police detective who interviewed her shortly after the killing said Marinucci acknowledged wanting to kill Daugherty because of jealousy.

Marinucci also mistakenly believed she was about four weeks pregnant with Smyrnes' child at the time of the murder, Peck said, noting that Marinucci specifically told Smyrnes to kill Daugherty after she kicked Marinucci in the abdomen while trying to fend off her punches.

A county child welfare worker also testified that Marinucci claimed to be Smyrnes' fiancee and pregnant with his child on the Monday before Daugherty's murder. Marinucci testified she said those things only to help Smyrnes regain custody of his son.

But Peck contends Marinucci used Smyrnes' cell phone to send texts inviting Daugherty to take the 12-mile bus ride to visit the apartment that same day _ Feb. 8, 2010. Daugherty's parents have described her as naive, overly trusting and with the mental capacity of a young teenager.

After spending the night there, Smyrnes and the others teased, humiliated and, finally tortured Daugherty from the evening of Feb. 9 until Knight fatally stabbed her late Feb. 10, using a knife Smyrnes gave him, Peck said. Although Marinucci didn't live at the apartment, she spent much of her after-school time and weekends there, and all parties agree she stayed overnight between those fateful days.

"She not only instigated (Daugherty's death), but more importantly she encouraged and demanded it over and over," Peck said,