GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania — The fourth of six people charged in the February 2010 torture-murder of a mentally disabled woman pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 40 to 80 years in prison.
Amber Meidinger, of Greensburg, was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to third-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.
She cooperated with Westmoreland County prosecutors who determined she was somewhat less culpable for the treatment of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty, who was held captive and tortured over two days before she was choked and fatally stabbed in a dingy apartment about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.
The two men who actually killed Daugherty, Ricky Smyrnes, 27, and Melvin Knight, 24, are on death row for first-degree murder. Smyrnes' girlfriend at the time, Angela Marinucci, 21, is serving a life sentence for the same charge.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck couldn't pursue the death penalty against Marinucci because she was 17 when Daugherty was killed. But the prosecutor contends Marinucci provoked the attack because she was jealous that Smyrnes had sex with Daugherty.
Daugherty's body was found wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a garbage can wedged beneath a truck parked in a school parking lot, after Knight and Smyrnes dragged the container several blocks across town during a snowstorm.
Before she died, Daugherty was beaten, had her hair cut, had her purse looted and was forced to drink a vile mixture of human waste, cleaning fluids and prescription drugs, which Smyrnes and the others hoped would kill her.
When Daugherty vomited and survived, the gang of six instead voted to kill her, according to Meidinger, who testified against the previously convicted defendants. Meidinger, who was pregnant with Knight's child at the time but has since given birth, said Knight stabbed Daugherty and then choked her with a strand of Christmas lights with Smyrnes' help.
"She didn't deserve that at all," Meidinger told sentencing Judge Rita Hathaway. "I hate myself for that. I hate it."
Daugherty's family approved the plea bargain, but still asked for a stiff sentence.
"All I know is Amber Meidinger should spend as much time in prison as possible," Daugherty's sister, Joy Burkholder told the judge. "I ask, your honor, please make this good enough for Jennifer."
The final two defendants, Peggy Miller, 30, and Robert Masters, 39, are scheduled to plead guilty to third-degree murder on Dec. 19. Peck has said they cooperated with authorities and played a lesser role in Daugherty's torture death, but didn't help her escape when they had the opportunity.