GREENSBURG (KDKA) – Jury selection began Monday in the penalty phase for a man who previously pleaded guilty in the kidnapping and torture death of a Westmoreland County woman in 2010.
Earlier this year, Melvin Knight pleaded guilty to first and second-degree murder in connection with the death of Jennifer Daugherty.
Two women have been seated on the jury so far.
The big concern heading into jury selection was whether a panel could be found in Westmoreland County given the media coverage surrounding the case.
So far, that hasn’t been a problem. Most of the jurors who have been excused have had hardships with the lengthy time commitment or have told the judge that they would be unable to impose the death penalty.
Melvin Knight, 22, appeared in court in a shirt and tie for the first day of jury selection in the penalty phase of his trial.
He sat stone-faced in the jury room staring out the window and occasionally eating a mint, never making eye contact with the juror being questioned.
Knight pleaded guilty in April to the murder and torture of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty.
A jury will now hear evidence and have to weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors to determine whether he gets the death penalty or spends the rest of his life in prison.
Knight’s co-defendant, Angela Marinucci, was sentenced to life in prison last year after being found guilty. She was ineligible for the death penalty because she was just 17 when the murder occurred.
Co-defendant Amber Meidinger, who is awaiting trial and faces the death penalt, testified against Marinucci.
She is also on the witness list to testify at this trial. Meidinger is the mother of Knight’s child and claims he was her fiancé at the time of the murder.
Today, Judge Rita Hathaway denied a motion by defense attorneys to sequester the jury to keep them from watching media reports once the trial begins.
She also denied a motion by the defense that would have prevented prosecutors from telling the jury that Jennifer Daugherty had a mental disability.
This is the first time a Westmoreland cCunty jury will have the option of imposing the death penalty since back in 2005 when convicted cop killer Michael Travaglia was sentenced to death. He remains on death row.
Seventy-one jurors reported to the courthouse for questioning by the judge and attorneys today. Another 80 are expected to report each day this week.
The trial will begin next Monday and is expected to last 10 days.
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