Jurors hear from North Hills murder suspect in videotaped interrogation
Posted February 9, 2016 11:44 a.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2016 5:56 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Jurors in the trial of Travion Smith spent a portion of the day Tuesday watching the remainder of a videotaped interview between the defendant and Raleigh police Detective Eric Gibney from May 2013.
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 was new to the Triangle, having divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road with 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.
Smith and his co-defendants, Ronald Lee Anthony and Sarah Rene Redden, were questioned by police when initially identified as suspects. Investigators used statements from each against the others.
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.
In the videotape jurors watched on Tuesday, Gibney repeatedly told Smith that his co-defendants were pointing the finger at him, and that he needed to tell the truth to save himself.
"They are putting you in there. They are putting it all on you," Gibney said. "You deserve an opportunity to tell your story."
At first Smith only admitted to breaking into cars the night of the murder, but eventually said Anthony entered Huggins-Jones' apartment through a sliding door on the balcony while he waited outside. Smith said it was then that he heard a blood-curdling scream.
"It was just like a horrifying scream, like something you hear in a horror movie," Smith said. "It sounded like panic."
Smith said he ran and eventually ended up reuniting with Anthony.
Police were called to the apartment complex to investigate reported car break-ins the night of the murder, but did not learn of Huggins-Jones' death until the next morning.
Smith told officers he repeatedly asked Anthony what happened inside the apartment, but he never got an answer.
"I didn't know what was going on, and he wouldn't tell me nothing," Smith said. "I didn't go to sleep for two whole days. I couldn't eat nothing because I didn't know what was going on."
Smith said he called his father to talk about what he thought might have happened in Huggins-Jones’ apartment.
"I called my father and talked to him and said, 'Dad, I don't know what's going on. I think, I think, I think my friend just killed somebody. I don't know for sure yet.'" he said.
Former City-County Bureau of Identification agent Tracy Gold took the stand late Tuesday morning. She was one of the main investigators at the murder scene.
For the remainder of the day, the jury got the opportunity to see photographs of the victim's body and physical evidence from the crime scene. Much of the evidence was blood stained and prompted an emotional reaction from the audience and jurors, who openly shed tears.