Saturday, June 12, 2010

Three, Including Woman, Face Death Penalty in Greensburg

The death penalty will be sought against two men and a woman for the brutal kidnapping, torture and murder of a woman in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. District Attorney John Peck announced his decision to pursue the death penalty based on the fact that the murder was committed in the commission of another felony, presumably kidnapping, and the existence of the aggravating circumstance of torture.

Peck filed notice last week that he will seek the death penalty for Ricky V. Smyrnes, 24; Melvin L. Knight, 20; and Amber C. Meidinger, 20. The death penalty must be imposed by a jury after a guilty verdict of first degree murder. The jury is then reconvened to hear evidence during the penalty phase hearing. If a jury finds more aggravating circumstances than mitigating it can impose the penalty of death. In Pennsylvania, execution is by lethal injection.

Three other co-defendants were also charged with murder, but will not face the death penalty. The others are Peggy Darlene Miller, 27; Robert Loren Masters, 36; and Angela Marinucci, 17. Marinucci will not face the death penalty because she is a juvenile.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the six are charged with first- and second-degree homicide in the stabbing death of Jennifer Daugherty, 30, in a Greensburg apartment the defendants shared. Daugherty’s head was shaved, and she was bound with Christmas decorations and clothing. She was beaten with several items – according to the affidavit, a crutch, a vacuum cleaner hose, and a towel rack. She was also forced to consume urine, detergent, and a medicine cocktail. In her final hours, she was allegedly forced to write a suicide note, stabbed multiple times, and then left in a trash can in a middle school parking lot.

Attorneys for Smyrnes and Knight say their clients suffer from mental deficiencies that make them ineligible for the death penalty under a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that prohibits the death penalty for someone who is mentally disabled. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), outlawed the death penalty for the mentally retarded.

The case brings to the forefront another U.S. Supreme Court cases Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551(2005). Roper outlawed the death penalty for juveniles and is the reason Marinucci is not facing the death penalty.

The Tribune-Review added that capital punishment was reinstated in Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. Since then the death penalty has been imposed twice in Westmoreland County. John Lesko, 52, of Pittsburgh, and Michael Travaglia, 51, of Washington Township, were sentenced to death for killing Apollo police Officer Leonard Miller in 1980. Travaglia is on death row. Lesko is awaiting a new trial after his conviction was overturned several years ago.

According to the state Department of Corrections, as of June 1, there were 221 people on death row. Five are women. Only three men have been executed in Pennsylvania since the reinstatement of the death penalty.

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