Jurors hear heated exchanges between Smith, police in taped interview
Posted February 8
Raleigh, N.C. — On the fifth day of testimony, jurors in the trial of Travion Smith witnessed heated exchanges between the defendant and Raleigh police Detective Eric Gibney in a videotaped interrogation.
Smith, 23, is charged with first-degree murder in 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones' death and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Huggins-Jones had recently divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road, where she started a new job and a new life caring for her 8-year-old daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones.
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 she had died from repeated blows to her head and neck.
According to investigators, a laptop stolen from Huggins-Jones' apartment complex connected Smith to the murder.
On Monday, there was a lot of debate between the attorneys and the judge as to what parts, if any, of a videotaped interrogation would be shown to the jury. The judge ruled on which parts would be allowed, and late Monday afternoon, the jury witnessed Smith speak for the first time.
Smith and his co-defendents, Ronald Lee Anthony and Sarah Rene Redden, were questioned by police when initially identified as suspects. Investigators used their statements against one another.
Anthony pleaded guilty in 2015 to first-degree murder in Huggins-Jones’ death and was sentenced to life in prison. Redden testified for the state against Smith last week and hopes to get a lesser sentence as a result.
During the interview, Gibney told Smith he needed to come clean because he was not just looking at a theft charge - he was looking at something much more serious.
"Right now, that computer is putting you in the middle of a murder investigation," Gibney said.
Smith denied knowing anything about the murder.
"You can tell I don't believe you, right?” Gibney said. "What you are saying right now does not make a lick of sense."
Outside the presence of the jury, there was talk about the tactics police use in interrogations, including calling suspects liars, telling them they have evidence to prove their guilt or putting them at a certain location connected to a crime - all of which are legal.
The jury is expected to hear the rest of the videotaped interrogation on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Detective Sean Brady described the crime scene the way he found it that morning.
"There was blood on her face, blood on the wall...teeth missing," he said. "We were there for days. No one was allowed to come in or out."
He also testified to obtaining search warrants to look for evidence in Huggins-Jones' apartment.