Murder victim Jennifer Daugherty had eight times the therapeutic level of an antidepressant in her bloodstream, more than enough to kill her, a forensic toxicologist testified this afternoon.
Dr. Laura Labay, who works for a private laboratory in Willow Grove, Montgomery County, said that Daugherty, 30, had 600 nanograms per milliliter of Zoloft in her bloodstream – “a lethal dose.”
Westmoreland County jurors hearing the first-degree homicide case against Angela Marinucci, 18, of Greensburg learned that Labay calculated Daugherty would have swallowed about 33 tablets, with 100milligrams each, of the drug.
Labay said her analysis revealed that Daugherty had acetone, nicotine, rubbing alcohol and traces of an antipsychotic medication, Seroquel, in her bloodstream. She said none of those amounts were fatal.
District Attorney John Peck called the expert to the stand in an attempt to show what Marinucci and five other suspects forced Daugherty to ingest during more than two days of torture before she was slain.
After Labay undergoes cross-examination, Amber Meidinger will resume her testimony about how she and five others held Daugherty against her will in a Greensburg apartment and tortured and humiliated her.
On Feb. 11, 2010, Meidinger gave three different versions to police about events leading up to the murder.
Greensburg police were dealing with the gruesome find of the victim’s body, discarded in a trash can and dumped at Greensburg Salem Middle School, when they began interviewing six suspects at the police station that day.
Attorney Michael DeMatt honed in on discrepancies in Meidinger’s statements to police as he cross-examined her in the fifth day of testimony against Marinucci for the murder of Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.
Accused of torturing Daugherty for more than two days before stabbing her are three couples — Marinucci and boyfriend Ricky Smyrnes; Meidinger and boyfriend Melvin Knight; and Peggy Miller and boyfriend Robert Masters.
DeMatt got Meidinger to admit that she initially tried to downplay her own involvement in the slaying by placing all the blame on Marinucci and Smyrnes.
They are accused of luring Daugherty to Smyrnes’ apartment on North Pennsylvania Avenue because Marinucci thought Daugherty was interfering with “her man,” according to testimony.
Meidinger told DeMatt the group had a series of “family meetings’ to decide if Marinucci or Daugherty would be “an appropriate mother figure” if Smyrnes was to regain custody of his son.
At the second meeting, Marinucci gave Smyrnes an ultimatum: “You’re going to have to choose, me or Jen. And if you pick me, you have to get rid of Jen,” Meidinger testified.
At the third meeting, Daugherty’s fate was sealed. Meidinger said everybody “wanted Jennifer dead.”
DeMatt attacked Meidinger’s credibility over her initial statement to police, which contradicts her trial testimony.
“You left Peggy out of it?” he asked Meidinger.
“Yes,” she replied.
“You left Robert out of it?”
“You left Melvin out of it?”
Police didn’t buy Meidinger’s initial statement.
“At that point, you changed your story, didn’t You?’ asked DeMatt.
“Yes,” Meidinger answered.
“You left yourself out of it during that second story?” the attorney asked. “You essentially left out the four of you that were picked up at the Sunoco station?”
In the third version she gave to police, Meidinger admitted she had made up cocktails that included urine, feces and bleach that Daugherty was forced to drink as Meidinger hit her with a metal towel rack.
“Finally, you did admit that you used your own feces to give to Jennifer?” DeMatt asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“You still didn’t tell them that Melvin stabbed her?”
“I did not,” replied Meidinger, who gave birth to Knight’s baby while she was being held in the county prison while awaiting trial. Their daughter is in foster care.
Meidinger testified that Marinucci had sent Daugherty a series a text messages over the weekend, before her death, asking if they could discuss their relationship with Smyrnes.
Daugherty never realized that she was being lured into a trap.
During DeMatt’s methodical questioning, he highlighted Meidinger’s lack of candor and her attempts to limit her culpability in the crime. Despite facing a possible death sentence, Meidinger said she was testifying against the advice of her attorney, Amy Keim.
“I was willing to talk to them without a plea bargain,” Meidinger said.
“You were trying to place all the blamed on what happened to Jen on Ricky and Angie?”
“Yes,’ she said.
Prosecutors will also seek the death penalty if they convict Knight and Smyrnes of first-degree murder.