Greensburg murder victim tried to fend off rape

Jennifer Daugherty tried to fight off a rape in the final hours of her life, an investigator testified Tuesday during the penalty-phase trial of a former Allegheny County man convicted of her murder.

Westmoreland County prosecutors contend that Daugherty was unsuccessful in her attempts to fend off 22-year-old Melvin Knight, who they say raped her, then fatally stabbed her in the heart.

Former county Detective Adam Jack told jurors that bruises on the 30-year-old victim’s arms and legs were consistent with the kinds of injuries typically seen on the victims of sexual assault.

“Are the injuries consistent with (those) occurring during the course of a rape?” asked District Attorney John Peck.

“Yes they are,” Jack replied.

Peck wants a jury to condemn Knight, a former Swissvale resident, to death for the February 2010 torture slaying of Daugherty.

Police said Knight and five other people who landed in a Greensburg apartment turned on the victim, who was mentally challenged. She had taken a bus into the city from her Mt. Pleasant home and thought she was spending the night with a group of friends.

After two days of captivity, Daugherty was beaten and abused before she was killed, according to prosecutors.

One of the suspects, Angela Marinucci, now 20, was convicted of first-degree murder last year and was sentenced to life in prison. Knight pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in April. Jurors hearing the penalty phase of the trial before Judge Rita Hathaway will be asked to determine whether he should get the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The prosecution contends Knight should be given the death penalty because he tortured and raped Daugherty.

The defense has argued that Knight’s mental illness and hard childhood should spare him.

In court on Tuesday, Jack described bruises on Daugherty’s left hand and right arm as defensive injuries inflicted as she warded off an attack.

Jurors were told that although none of Knight’s genetic material was found on Daugherty, a rape still could have occurred.

Sarah Kinneer, a forensic scientist with the state police crime lab, testified that the lack of evidence doesn’t exclude rape.
“We don’t always find semen. There are many reasons why,” Kinneer testified.

The prosecution for the first time directly linked Knight to Daugherty.

Greensburg Detective Jerry Vernail testified that Daugherty’s outgoing voicemail on her cell phone had been altered.

After her body was discovered in a trash can dumped under a truck parked at Greensburg Salem Middle School in the city, investigators tried Daugherty’s cell phone.

Vernail told jurors the outgoing voice-mail message told callers they had reached “Melvin, Amber and Jules.”

Vernail identified the new message as “Melvin’s voice.”

Knight’s girlfriend, Amber Meidinger, had moved into the Greensburg apartment with him. She and Knight were expecting a child, who was born in the county jail.

Peck will seek the death penalty against Meidinger and co-defendant Ricky Smyrnes in upcoming trials.

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