New sentencing trial in Greensburg torture-murder case pushed back |

New sentencing trial in Greensburg torture-murder case pushed back

Rich Cholodofsky
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Melvin Knight is escorted from the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Aug. 31, 2012, after being sentenced to death for the murder of Jennifer Daugherty.

The death penalty trial for Melvin Knight will not happen until at least November.

A Westmoreland County judge Tuesday pushed back the trial’s start to accommodate delays from two defense experts who have yet to submit reports lawyers say are needed.

Knight, 28, is one of six Greensburg roommates convicted for the February 2010 torture slaying of Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old mentally disabled woman from Mt. Pleasant who was held captive, tortured and stabbed to death.

Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway met with prosecutors and defense lawyers for more than an hour and initially thought she would not delay the trial, which both sides requested, she said.

“I am getting very frustrated with this,” Hathaway said.

Ultimately, the judge said the case had to be delayed because neither side would be ready for trial in July.

Knight pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. A state appeals court in 2016 vacated the death sentence and ordered another penalty proceeding.

Court-appointed defense attorneys Tim Dawson and Jim Robinson hired three experts — two psychologists and one mitigation specialist — to help prepare Knight’s defense, in which he will ask that his life be spared. Two of those reports still are outstanding.

District Attorney John Peck filed court documents this week asking for more time to prepare his case after receiving one report from the defense.

Peck said a psychologist hired by his office would not have been able to complete his evaluation of Knight before the trial. Jury selection was to have started July 9.

Hathaway ordered the remaining defense expert reports be turned over to prosecutors by July 10. She set jury selection to begin Oct. 29, with testimony to start Nov. 1.

Knight also has asked to withdraw his guilty plea. Hathaway said she will hold a hearing on that request in October.

Knight is one of two men to be sentenced to death in connection with Daugherty’s death. The prosecution contends the group held Daugherty captive in a Greensburg apartment, where they beat and tortured her before she was stripped, bound to a chair and stabbed in the heart.

Ricky Smyrnes, 32, a man the prosecution described as the group’s ringleader, is appealing his death sentence.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293.

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