Huggins-Jones' mother: Travion Smith 'deserves to suffer and die'
Posted February 22, 2016
Updated February 23, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Jurors needed only about an hour to decide Monday to send Travion Smith to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
Smith, 23, faced the possibility of the death penalty after his conviction last week in the May 2013 death of Melissa Huggins-Jones.
A Wake County jury has not sentenced anyone to death since 2007, and a decision to do so requires unanimous consensus by all 12 jurors.
In emotional moments following the verdict, Huggins-Jones' mother read a letter aloud to Smith.
"On May 13 and 14, 2013, you choose to do wrong," she said. "And now we have to live with the choices you made. This has left a hole in our hearts, but you cannot take away the many wonderful memories we all have of our Melissa."
Huggins-Jones' mother, Dawn Wallace, said that even though many details about her daughter's murder were revealed in court, she is still troubled by what she may never know about her daughter's very last moments.
"We have no way of knowing how much Melissa suffered before she died," she said.
Addressing Smith, Wallace said he deserved to suffer the same fate as her daughter.
"What you really deserve is to suffer and die in the same manner Melissa did," Wallace said. "You took our child away. Unlike you, Melissa loved people, always wanting to help others."
Huggins-Jones' father then spoke, voicing his surprise at the lack of emotion shown by Smith during the sentencing. Both were pleased to know that Smith will "never be released back into society again."
Smith’s sister, Kristina Love, said she is thankful that her brother's life was spared.
"The only thing I can guarantee is that moving forward, those who love and care for him will continue to motivate him to be the best he can be and make the correct decisions to better his future," she said.
In arguing for the death penalty, prosecutors said that none of the mitigating factors in the case, which mostly relate to Smith's troubled past, outweigh the aggravating factors.
"It is your duty to return a death penalty verdict in this case as you promised to do so," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jason Waller said. "(Smith) stabbed her in the cheek, ear. He tore her nose off and busted her teeth out."
Waller focused on the fact that Huggins-Jones' then 8-year-old daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones, was sleeping down the hall.
"(Huggins-Jones) knew she was going to die, and she was not able to do a thing to help herself or Hannah," Waller said. "(Huggins-Jones) didn't have a choice that night. (Smith) took that choice away from her. He took life away from her."
Defense attorneys argued that the death penalty is reserved for the worst offenders, and that Smith is not one of them.
"Smith is guilty of first-degree murder. He is responsible for first-degree murder," defense attorney Phoebe Dee said. "He will be sentenced for first-degree murder. He will die in prison."
"The death penalty is not appropriate for every case of first-degree murder. It is reserved for the worst of the worst," defense attorney Jonathan Broun said.
Dee and Broun say Smith, whose childhood was marred by neglect and abuse, deserved life in prison.
"(Smith) will be punished for the rest of his life because of what happened, but his history before what happened does not show he is incapable of redemption," Broun said.
Following the sentencing, Broun said he felt that the jurors decision may be sending a message about the way the public views the death penalty as a punishment.
"I think that we're hopefully beginning to learn in Wake County and in other parts of the state that we can punish people harshly and severely for first-degree murder without using the death penalty," he said.
After Smith was convicted of the crime, jurors heard hours of testimony Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from family and friends of both Smith and Huggins-Jones.
The 30-year-old mother of two was new to the Triangle, having divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road prior to the crime. Hannah Jones moved to Raleigh with her mother. 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.