Jury Selection Set to Begin in 1st Torture-Slaying Trial

Article excerpt

The torture slaying of a mentally challenged woman in Greensburg has made headlines and news broadcasts ever since police discovered the victim's body near Greensburg Salem Middle School on Feb. 2, 2010.

Court officials will try to discern today whether the coverage of the slaying of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty will affect the trials of six defendants charged with first-degree murder in her death.

Seventy-five prospective jurors will be summoned this morning to Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway's courtroom as lawyers attempt to select a panel to hear evidence against 18-year-old Angela Marinucci.

Marinucci is the first defendant to be tried. Because she was 17 at the time of the killing, Marinucci is not eligible for capital punishment. If she is convicted of first-degree murder, she faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Also charged are Ricky Smyrnes, 25; Amber Meidinger, 21; Melvin Knight, 21; Peggy Miller, 28; and Robert Masters, 37.

The prosecution will seek the death penalty against Smynres, Knight and Meidinger. Attorneys for Miller and Masters have been attempting to negotiate plea bargains for their clients. Masters testified against his Greensburg roommates during a pretrial hearing last year.

Marinucci's lawyer previously asked that jurors from outside Westmoreland County be selected to hear her case, claiming that potential jurors have been prejudiced by media coverage of Daugherty's torture and slaying.

Hathaway ruled that attorneys must first try to choose a panel of county residents.

"The ultimate litmus test as to whether you need to go out of county to get a jury is to try first in the county. It's worth taking a shot at it in Westmoreland County," said Bruce Antkowiak, a law professor at Duquesne University School of Law.

Jurors are rarely selected from other counties for Westmoreland cases. A panel was brought in from Eastern Pennsylvania in the trial of John Lesko and Michael Travaglia, who are appealing their death sentences in the 1980 shooting death of Leonard Miller, an Apollo police officer.

Greensburg lawyer Rabe Marsh, who represented Lesko for the 1981 trial, said he sees similarities between that case and the six suspects accused of in Daugherty's death.

"I think the publicity in the recent case is on a par with what we had 30 years ago," Marsh said. …