Local News

After monthlong jury selection process, North Hills murder trial to begin Tuesday

Posted February 1, 2016 5:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 2, 2016 9:39 a.m. EST

— It took a month to pick 12 jurors willing to consider the death penalty, but after some last-minute ground work, the trial of a suspect accused of murdering a mother in her North Hills apartment will begin Tuesday.

Travion Devonte Smith, 23, of Raleigh, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Huggins-Jones in May 2013.

Huggins-Jones, 30, had recently divorced and moved from Tennessee to the 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. 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.

An autopsy determined she had died from repeated blows to her head and neck.

On Monday, attorneys wanted to make sure that the testimony the jury will hear is fair.

"This is about as prejudicial (a) piece of information as you can imagine," said defense attorney Jonathan Broun.

Another man, Ronald Lee Anthony, pleaded guilty in 2015 to first-degree murder in Huggins-Jones’ death and was sentenced to life in prison. He may testify against Smith.

"It is still a possibility, but the plea (Anthony) entered last year...there was no condition that he testifies against Mr. Smith," said prosecutor Jason Waller.

Sarah Rene Redden, of Wake Forest, is also charged in the case. She admitted to being the getaway driver.

Prosecutors said the three suspects had been breaking into cars in the area and that Redden had served as a lookout at a different apartment complex. Redden's defense attorney, Rosemary Godwin, said Redden wasn't inside the apartment when Huggins-Jones was killed.

"Miss Redden has made several different statements about what happened in the case," Broun said. "Specifically what she was told by Travion Smith and Ronald Anthony."

Defense attorneys are concerned about which version of the story she will tell the jury if she testifies.

"Ronald Anthony told her he was the one who inflicted all of the lethal blows...did all of the attacking," Broun said.

"(Redden) never says Ronald Anthony is the only person who killed (Huggins-Jones), and I want to be clear about that," said Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita. "What she said was, 'I was not being truthful when I asked about certain things Mr. Smith said.'"

Redden has not been offered a plea deal and is still expected to testify. The judge will review her statements and question her before she gets in front of a jury.

Opening statements will begin Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. WRAL.com will live stream the trial in its entirety.