Detective: Stolen laptop, car break-ins helped track down North Hills murder suspect
Posted February 3, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Raleigh police detectives took the stand Wednesday to outline how investigators tracked down the men charged in the 2013 death of Melissa Huggins-Jones, a mother who was found dead in her North Hills apartment.
Detective Jerry Faulk, with the Raleigh Police Department, said that, on the same night 30-year-old Huggins-Jones was murdered in May 2013, multiple cars were broken into around the neighborhood.
Travion Devonte Smith, 23, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Huggins-Jones, and he admitted before the trial started that he was breaking into cars that night with Ronald Anthony and Sarah Rene Redden.
Anthony pleaded guilty in 2015 to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, and Redden, of Wake Forest, admitted to being the getaway driver.
At first, detectives said they did not know if the car break-ins were connected to the murder, but they suspected they were.
"We thought they may be related because the murder happened at an apartment that was broken into, and it all happened on the same night," Faulk said Wednesday.
Police said they were able to find Smith and the other suspects by tracking a laptop stolen from the apartment's leasing office listed for sale on Craigslist.
"We were finally able to track down a laptop that was stolen from an apartment below Ms. Huggins-Jones," Faulk said.
Detective Zeke Morse said he was able to use the photos of the orange laptop posted on the Craigslist ad and match the device based on a specific serial number.
"There was a picture of the control panel screen. On that screen there was a specific Windows identifying number - the product code," he said.
Morse contacted the seller, who identified himself as Mike, and made arrangements to purchase the laptop and meet him at a Walmart in Wake Forest. But Mike, who was later identified as Michael McCollum, never showed up.
McCollum said he met Anthony in July 2012 at a hotel they were both staying at. McCollum would use his background in technology to help Anthony sell items on Craigslist.
When McCollum was contacted about the orange laptop, he said it sounded "fishy," but that Anthony told him the laptop was not stolen.
"No one ever offers you what you want on Craigslist," he said. "It scared me to death. I immediately took the post down and called (Anthony) to ask what was going on."
McCollum said he never had the orange laptop in his possession and that he was sent photos of the device from Anthony's girlfriend.
"He told me they were hot. He told me he did something with the laptops and that they should not have been on Craigslist," McCollum said.
McCollum later testified that Smith called him the following day and offered him another laptop. The two later met at McCollum's Wake Forest apartment, where Smith offered him a low price.
"It was a $1,000 laptop, and you will take $50?" he said. "I knew something was not right."
McCollum was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property and was taken in for questioning. He said that is where he ran into Smith for a second time.
"He was smiling, talking about is baby mama crying about him being involved in a murder," McCollum said.
Other testimony Wednesday focused on the fact that Huggins-Jones was having trouble with her air conditioning in May 2013 and had requested maintenance assistance.
"There were a couple of times I was called to her apartment," said maintenance supervisor Michael Langley. "One time it was for a washer issues...and one time it was for the air conditioning."
Police believe that Huggins-Jones left her balcony sliding glass door open the night she was killed to get some air. Authorities said the open door gave the suspects a way into her second-floor apartment.
Huggins-Jones had recently divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road. She started a new job and a new life caring for her 8-year-old daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones. Huggins-Jones’ son had stayed behind with his father in Tennessee to finish the school year.
On the morning of May 14, 2013, Hannah wandered out of the apartment and approached a nearby construction crew, asking for help. A construction worker followed the girl back into the apartment and found Huggins-Jones dead in her bed, covered in blood.
An autopsy determined that she died from repeated blows to her head and neck.
If convicted, Smith, who was 20 at the time of the crime, faces the possibility of the death penalty. The trial is expected to last four weeks.