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Feb. 14 2010 - 4:13 pm | 3,273 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

Should Pa. seek death penalty in ‘cult killing’ of mentally challenged woman?

Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old mentally challenged woman living in Greensburg, Pa. (about 40 miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh), was brutally tortured last week by a group of people she apparently considered friends. True Crime Report is on the story and so are a few others. Here’s a summary from the front page of the Tribune Review today:

They shaved her head and smeared her face with nail polish. They forced Daugherty to drink and eat urine, detergent, medication, spices and vegetable oil. They beat her with a towel rack, a vacuum hose and a crutch. They wrapped Christmas lights around her. Knight stabbed her in the chest, side and neck, an affidavit said. Smyrnes told police he cut her in the wrist. The suspects implicated each other in the murder, police said.

Knight and Smyrnes stuffed the victim into a trash can and dragged it a few blocks to the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School, police allege. It was found about 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

Greensburg Police identified the following suspects:


There’s already death penalty discussion surrounding this case, despite the plethora of questions and the lack of available answers. The Post-Gazette quotes Greensburg police Chief Walter Lyons saying this might have been a case of jealousy gone horrifically insane, but investigators are not getting consistent stories from so-called persons of interest.

“We’re getting different statements from different people,” he said. “We’re still trying to talk to all the people who are involved to try to pin down exactly what the motive was.” Police have said Ms. Daugherty had “some relationship” with Mr. Smyrnes, but they were still trying to determine its nature.

People — and even people with no identifiable connection with the situation or the town or… anything, really — have a tendency to go berserk with outrage in cases like this. Some are already calling this a “cult killing.

The tendency to go berserk is certainly justifiable; the thought of six individuals torturing a helpless and innocent woman for 33-hours before stabbing her to death and throwing her into a trashcan… well, that’s enough to get anyone furious. But let’s see how this one plays out. A few of the suspects have certifiable mental illnesses, and one psychologist told the Tribune-Review there’s a good chance some suspects were more involved in this murder than others.

Susan Goldberg, a psychologist at Duquesne University specializing in criminal behavior, said the alleged murder likely was triggered by the presence of one strong individual in the group.

“I’m suggesting there is a leader,” Goldberg said. “Most murders do not rise to this level of sadism. And it’s difficult to imagine all six individuals exhibiting the same sadistic tendencies to this degree.”

Of course, it’s all speculation at this point. And none of that last bit holds much weight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “Accomplice liability” means that if you participated in a crime that resulted in a murder, your degree of involvement doesn’t really matter; you’re liable to get charged with murder anyway.

Which means theĀ R.I.P. Jennifer Daugherty page on Facebook might soon begin to look a lot like the Capital Murder For Richard Poplawski page.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE via UpTheDown, Gargilius and others on Reddit: Consider that some say it costs states quite a bit more to execute a person than it does to keep them in prison for life. Discuss if you’re up for it.


1 Total Comment
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  1. collapse expand

    Death penalty should absolutely be sought for all of them!

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