Raleigh, N.C. — Three people were arrested Wednesday in the death of a 30-year-old mother who recently moved to Raleigh and was found covered in blood inside her apartment last week.
Ronald Lee Anthony, 23, of 1800 S. Bloodworth St., Raleigh, Travion Devonte Smith, 20, of Raleigh, and Sarah Rene Redden, 18, of 3209 Scotch Pine Trail, Wake Forest, were taken into custody late Tuesday and charged early Wednesday with first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Huggins-Jones.
Her body was discovered by a construction worker about 7:30 a.m. on May 14 after her 8-year-old daughter approached a crew working at the Allister North Hills Apartments asking for help.
Huggins-Jones died of blunt force trauma, Raleigh police said Wednesday afternoon, and investigators believe the suspects tried to burglarize her apartment and made "unforced entry."
Investigators said a link was established between the homicide and "certain property crimes in the area," but they would not elaborate.
According to police records, however, there were four car break-ins in the Ramblewood subdivision next to the apartments on the morning Huggins-Jones was found.
Investigators have not found any connection between Huggins-Jones and the suspects.
They each made brief first-court appearances Wednesday afternoon, where they asked for public defenders and a judge ordered them held in jail without bond.
A probable cause hearing was also set for June 12.
"Most people are killed by someone they know. The random murders are few, but they're the ones that frighten us the most," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "You expect people who engage in criminal activity to be at risk, but when you're at home in your own bed minding your business, going to work every day, you just don't expect to be placed at risk, and that's why it's frightening to all of us."
Suspect was probation absconder
At the time of Huggins-Jones' death, Smith was considered a probation absconder and was wanted by police for violating the terms of house arrest, according to Keith Acree, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
After being released in January from prison, where he served time for receiving a stolen vehicle, Smith had been placed on a post-release supervision program. After failing to comply with the terms of the release, he was put on house arrest Feb. 28.
When he failed to wear a required ankle bracelet, a warrant for his arrest was issued April 16. They were unable to locate him until Tuesday.
Anthony was serving 24 months' probation for a number of convictions, including identity theft. He was previously convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon and was last released from prison in 2011 after a seven-month sentence.
He is expected in court next month on other pending charges, including larceny.
Acree said Anthony had visited his probation officer on May 16, two days after Huggins-Jones' body was discovered.
Redden has no criminal record but was suspended from Wakefield High School four years ago after allegedly threatening another student online.
Her mother, Tammy Hansley, said Wednesday that Redden "is not guilty. She wasn't involved," but declined to comment further.
Questions linger for victim's family
Huggins-Jones was originally from Elizabethtown but moved to Raleigh in early May from Cleveland, Tenn., where she worked at First Tennessee Bank.
She brought her daughter with her, but her 12-year-old son stayed in Cleveland with his father to finish out the school year. The couple met in high school and were recently divorced, friends have said.
Her cousin, Jennifer Huggins-Potter, said Wednesday that the family is relieved that police have made arrests but that the latest development brings only more questions and few answers.
"I've been looking at their pictures all morning and just want to know why. Why here? She had just gotten here and had a fresh start. She was so excited to be home, to be in North Carolina again."
Huggins-Potter said that, right now, the family is relying on memories to help them cope and are focused on Huggins-Jones' children.
"Her daughter will never get over that," she said. "Her daughter will never get over walking in – how cruel."