Daughter of murdered Raleigh woman testifies: 'I heard a screaming noise'
Posted February 17, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — The sentencing hearing for Travion Smith began Wednesday morning with emotional opening statements from both prosecution and defense attorneys.
Smith, 23, could face the death penalty after he was found guilty Tuesday afternoon of first-degree murder in the death of 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones, a Raleigh mom who was killed in her North Hills apartment in May 2013.
On Wednesday morning, the cameras were turned off in the courtroom while jurors heard from Huggins-Jones’ daughter, who found her on the morning of the murder.
Hannah Jones, now 10, told the jury her mother always had a smile on her face and described her as loving and giving.
She also talked about the night her mother was murdered and testified that she slept with a loud fan on.
"I heard a screaming noise and went back to sleep," she said. "It didn't sound like it was in our apartment."
When Hannah woke up, she went straight into her mother's bedroom.
"I walked into the room and saw that she wasn't alive, so I went downstairs to the office," she said. A construction worker followed the Hannah back into the apartment and found Huggins-Jones dead in her bed, covered in blood.
While Hannah was on the stand, prosecutors showed a paper heart she made while in the ambulance with emergency workers shortly after she discovered her mother. She said it was a way to keep her mother close to her heart.
While her grandparents and father looked on, Hannah told the prosecutor what she would miss most about her mother.
"I'm not going to be able to have her at my wedding," she said. "For the important times."
Smith's mother, Antoinette Yarborough, was the first person to take the stand for the defense. She testified that Smith's father abused her when she was pregnant, and punched her in the stomach.
"He didn't want the baby from me, that's what I was thinking," Yarborough said. "He didn't want the baby, but I had him anyway because that's my baby boy."
Claudia White, a neighbor who lived near Yarborough in Raleigh when Smith was a young child, also took the stand. She described Smith's tough upbringing and testified that his mother would often leave the home for days at a time.
"There were times (Smith and his brother) were without food, heat and hot water," White said. "The boys slept on a mattress on the floor or on the couch."
White said she wrote several letters to Child Protective Services detailing the circumstances and even took Smith to the doctor when he was very ill.
Smith's brother Aaron McGruder testified that he was able to overcome the challenging circumstances and always encouraged his younger brother to do the same.
"When I would see him, he seemed like he was in need," McGruder said of Smith. "I would encourage him to stay in school, to do his best and stay away from (gangs)."
Corey Smith, another of Smith's older brothers, echoed that sentiment and testified that, when he would see Smith, his brother did not seem well kept.
"His clothes always seemed too big, and his clothes were not clean," he said. "(Travion Smith) did not seemed cared for."
The sentencing phase of the trial is expected to continue Thursday morning. Then the jury will decide if Smith will get the death penalty or spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A Wake County jury has not handed down a death sentence since 2007. A decision to sentence a person to death requires a unanimous decision by all 12 jurors.