Mother tells jurors of note left by her daughter before 2010 Greensburg slaying
A short, handwritten note with an expression of love was the last message Jennifer Daugherty left for her mother.
Days later, her body would be discovered bound with Christmas lights and stuffed into a trash can left under a truck in a snow-covered Greensburg parking lot.
Denise Murphy on Tuesday told jurors that her daughter, mentally disabled as a child, wanted to be a writer, a chef and an auto mechanic. She sought to live on her own, the mother said. Still, she asked for permission to stay the night with friends in Greensburg — a trip from which she would never return.
On the witness stand, Murphy read her daughter’s final note, written out on the back of an envelope: “Mom, I hope you have a good day at work and I love you very much. Love, Jennifer.”
Murphy read the message to jurors on the sixth day of testimony in the sentencing trial for one of six Greensburg roommates convicted of Daugherty’s murder in February 2010.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty against Melvin Knight, 29, formerly of Swissvale, Allegheny County. Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other offenses in 2012 in connection with Daugherty’s fatal stabbing and was originally sentenced to death by lethal injection. A state appeals court in 2016 vacated his sentence and ordered a new hearing before a jury to determine if he is condemned to death or to serve a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday with the testimony of Daugherty’s family members, who described their last interactions with the 30-year-old woman as she left her Mt. Pleasant home by bus to visit friends and attend a doctor’s appointment in Greensburg.
Joy Burkholder told jurors she refused to take her sister to the bus that morning.
“It’s not my proudest moment,” Burkholder testified. “It was a rough morning, and I was irritated. Jennifer called later and left a voicemail and said she was sorry and that she wanted to hug me over the weekend. I deleted the voicemail because she irritated me again. I never heard her voice again.”
Family members told jurors that Daugherty sought to live on her own. The family, in an effort to expedite her application for subsidized housing, moved her to a homeless shelter in Greensburg for about a month. It was at the shelter that Daugherty met at least two of the women convicted in connection with her murder, prosecutors said.
Murphy testified Daugherty’s note included a phone number for Peggy Miller, one of the six convicted for the murder, and she called about two days after her daughter left for Greensburg. Miller at first denied knowing Daugherty. Another woman, later identified as Amber Meidinger, called back a few minutes later and claimed she and the group were concerned and would look for Daugherty, who she said had left them after meeting a man.
Police later learned that Meidinger, Miller and Knight, along with Ricky Smyrnes, Robert Masters and Angela Marinucci, held Daugherty captive for more than two days in a Greensburg apartment, where they beat and tortured her before she was stabbed to death.
As family members became more concerned, they continued to call Daugherty’s cell phone and found her outgoing message had been altered. A male voice, identified as Knight’s, claimed the phone belonged to “Melvin, Amber and Jules” — the last being the name of the not-yet-born child of Knight and Meidinger, prosecutors said.
Bobby Murphy said he gave his stepdaughter $10 for her trip to Greensburg and drove her to the bus stop on Feb. 8. She was not on the bus when she was scheduled to return to Mt. Pleasant a day later, he told jurors.
“She gave me a kiss on the cheek, said ‘I love you, pa, and tell mom I love her and I’ll see you Tuesday afternoon,’” Bobby Murphy testified.
Knight’s defense plans to focus on reasons his life should be spared and is expected to continue presenting its case Wednesday. The defense has contended that Knight suffered from low intellect and emotional disabilities.
Two defense witnesses testified Tuesday.
Richard Livingston, Knight’s now-retired special education teacher from grades 2 through 5, testified he was a “gullible” child and easily manipulated by other students.
Natalie Rice, 24, told jurors Knight had formed a romantic interest with her sister while both were patients at a Pittsburgh psychiatric hospital in the mid 2000s. Rice described Knight as her “best friend.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]