GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A western Pennsylvania teenager instigated, encouraged and — finally — demanded the torture murder of a mentally disabled woman she viewed as a romantic rival, a prosecutor said in his closing argument to a jury Thursday.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck told the jury he wants them to find Angela Marinucci, 18, guilty of first- or second-degree murder, as well as kidnapping and conspiracy, in the February 2010 death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty. Either murder conviction would carry a mandatory life sentence.
Peck contends Marinucci was jealous because she and the victim were involved with the same man — 25-year-old Ricky Smyrnes — one of five other co-defendants set to stand trial this year in Daugherty's death.
Marinucci testified she was no longer involved with Smyrnes when the killing occurred. Her attorney, Michael DeMatt, told the jury Marinucci was merely a terrified witness to the carnage against Daugherty over roughly 36 hours in a Greensburg apartment shared by Smyrnes and the other defendants.
"What we have here is a tragedy of epic proportions," DeMatt argued. "Angela Marinucci was a witness to this — she did not intend to kill Jen."
But Peck said several witnesses, including inmates who've spoken with Marinucci since the crime and a police detective who interviewed her shortly after the killing, said Marinucci acknowledged being jealous of and wanting to kill Daugherty because the victim was involved with Smyrnes.
Marinucci mistakenly believed she was about four weeks pregnant with Smyrnes' child at the time of the murder, Peck said.
"She not only instigated it, but more importantly she encouraged and demanded it over and over," 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.
Peck contends Marinucci used Smyrnes' cell phone to send texts inviting Daugherty to take the 12-mile bus ride to visit Smyrnes at the apartment on 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 — 21-year-olds Melvin Knight and Amber Meidinger, and another couple, Peggy Miller, 28, and Robert Masters — 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 sad.
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.
DeMatt noted that some of the abuse began when Marinucci wasn't there, which he argued proved she wasn't instigating it. But Meidinger testified that the others ganged up on Daugherty specifically because they were upset that she was trying to continue a romantic relationship with Smyrnes at Marinucci's expense.
The defendants are charged with kidnapping because Peck said they forcibly kept Daugherty at the residence, at times binding her hands and feet with Christmas lights and garland, and other times confining her to a bathroom.
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.
Meidinger acknowledged mixing a vile cocktail of human waste, laundry bleach and prescription drugs that Daugherty was forced to drink and which the defendants reportedly thought would kill her. When it didn't, she was stabbed, Peck said.
DeMatt acknowledged that Marinucci twice fought with and punched Daugherty during the ordeal, but claimed as his client did that those were isolated incidents related to disparaging remarks Daugherty allegedly made and not part of the systematic torture Peck claims Marinucci instigated.
DeMatt argued that Meidinger testified because "she knows her goose is cooked" — noting that Peck is pursuing the death penalty against her, Knight and Smyrnes. Marinucci can't face the death penalty because she was only 17 at the time.
DeMatt also noted that Meidinger repeatedly testified about Smyrnes taking the lead in the carnage.
"What name did she mention more than anybody else's? Ricky," DeMatt told the jury. "It sounded like Ricky was on trial here."
But Peck said Marinucci is guilty if she participated in the overall tableau and rejected DeMatt's arguments by saying, "I'm not trying to blame her for everything. ... There's plenty of blame to go around."
"The purpose of this trial is to bring forth evidence of the crimes she committed," Peck said. "She not only instigated it, but more importantly, she encouraged and demanded it over and over."
The jury was to begin deliberating after legal instructions by Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway.