Smith found guilty in North Hills murder
Posted February 16
Updated February 17
Raleigh, N.C. — After deliberating for about an hour Tuesday afternoon, a jury found Travion Smith guilty 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.
The quick verdict, which capped a two-week long trial, was returned after both the prosecution and defense had an opportunity to connect the dots for the jury during closing arguments.
Smith's attorney said the case is about his co-defendant, Ronald Anthony, the man they say controlled Smith and is ultimately responsible for the murder. Anthony pleaded guilty in 2015 to first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty.
"Everyone in this case is involved because of (Anthony)," defense attorney Phoebe Dee said.
"That evening Ronald Anthony was not only the leader, but he was the one who was more aggressive and showed he had a temper," defense attorney Jonathan Broun said.
But prosecutors disagreed, saying that Smith was there with Anthony committing the murder, which makes him just as culpable.
"The two were always together and are described as brothers," prosecutor Jason Waller said. "This case is about (Smith). This is a case where they decided (Huggins-Jones) had to die so that they could live."
During a dramatic moment, Waller mimicked the number of blows Huggins-Jones suffered the night she was murdered by pounding loudly on a table.
"Eighteen with that knife or that first went into her head, neck and torso," he said.
On Friday, Lauren Scott, associate chief medical examiner, said Huggins-Jones sustained 18 blows and eventually died of blood loss.
“(Huggins-Jones) would have known that she would have had these injuries and likely would have known she was beginning to lose consciousness from the loss of blood from the injuries,” Scott said.
Both sides called Huggins-Jones' murder "horrible, tragic and completely senseless."
"This was a brutal and senseless murder," Dee said. "(Huggins-Jones) was beaten to death over some stuff."
"(Huggins-Jones) was looking forward to a peaceful life here in Raleigh with her two kids, but that turned into a nightmare," Waller said.
When the verdict was read, Smith, who did not testify in the trial, showed no visible emotion, but family and friends of Huggins-Jones cried and embraced one another.
Huggins-Jones was new to the Triangle, having divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road, in the North Hills area with her then-8-year-old daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones. Her 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.
On the night of the murder, Smith, Anthony and Sarah Redden, who is also charged in the case, admitted to breaking into cars around the North Hills area.
At first, detectives said they did not know if the car break-ins were connected to the murder, but they suspected they were.
During the trial, police testified that they were able to track down Smith and Anthony by tracking a laptop computer stolen from Huggins-Jones' apartment's leasing office. The orange Lenovo laptop was later posted for sale on Craigslist.
On Wednesday, the jury will hear testimony to help them decide if Smith will get the death penalty or spend his life in prison, without the possibility of parole.