RALEIGH — Police say the young mother who had recently moved to Raleigh to take a job as a bank manager was killed in her North Hills apartment last week by three strangers who had intended only to commit a burglary.
How Melissa Dawn Huggins-Jones ended up on a bed last Tuesday morning, covered in blood, after the three entered her apartment is still not clear. But police have charged the two young men and one young woman with first-degree murder, ending more than a week of uncertainty and extra police patrols in her neighborhood off Six Forks Road.
Ronald Lee Anthony, 23, of 7425 Bud Drive near Wake Forest, Sarah Rene Redden, 18, of 3209 Scotch Pine Trail in Wake Forest, and Travion Devonte Smith, 20, of 1009 Fuller St. in Raleigh were arrested Tuesday afternoon on what would have been Huggins-Jones 31st birthday. Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said Anthony and Smith were first detained in Wake Forest and taken by Raleigh police to the departments detective headquarters for questioning. Redden was eventually contacted and agreed to come in to speak with investigators.
It appears the three did not know Huggins-Jones before they showed up at her apartment, police said. They think the three initially made an unforced entry into the apartment to commit a burglary.
Police disclosed for the first time Wednesday that Huggins-Jones died of blunt force trauma, though they have not disclosed the circumstances or the weapon.
The death was linked to four motor vehicle break-ins reported in the Ramblewood subdivision, near where Huggins-Jones lived, on the morning her body was found, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.
More evidence will come out to show there is some relevance, Willoughby said.
Its not clear how Anthony, Redden and Smith came to know each other. They went to different high schools, though none graduated. Redden and Smith both dropped out of alternative high schools for students with academic or behavioral issues, while Anthony was in the 12th grade when he withdrew from Fuquay-Varina High School in 2008.
Anthony and Smith have criminal records. Anthony was about halfway through 24 months of probation after he was convicted of attempted identity fraud, driving while his license was revoked, speeding, and providing fictitious information to a police officer. He was scheduled to be in court June 11 on charges of misdemeanor larceny.
His criminal record also shows previous convictions in Wake County for possession of stolen goods, injury to personal property, felony probation violation, and maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for a controlled substance. He was arrested in 2008 on three charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon and served just over seven months in prison in 2010 after those charges were consolidated into one.
That sentence also covered convictions for making a bomb threat and embezzlement, court records show.
Smith, who was a ninth-grader when he dropped out of Southeast Raleighs Longview School in 2010, had been wanted by police since April 16. The N.C. Governors Parole Commission issued a warrant for his arrest after it could not locate him while he was under house arrest.
Smith had been released from prison Jan. 12 after serving six months for receiving a stolen vehicle, simple assault and affray, corrections spokesman Keith Acree said.
The parole commission placed Smith under electronic house arrest Feb. 28 because he was not in compliance with the terms of his parole, Acree said. He went before the commission again April 10 for additional violations, including not keeping the battery of his electronic ankle bracelet charged, then again April 12. Parole authorities could not locate him after that visit.
On April 16, the parole commission issued a warrant for his arrest, Acree said. They have been looking for him since the last time they saw him on April 12.
Redden does not have a criminal history. A 2010 article about long-term school suspensions in Wake County in Durhams Indy Week reported that Redden was suspended for 68 days from Wakefield High School during the 2008-09 school year for sending a threatening email to a fellow student.
Redden told an Indy reporter that she wanted to go to college and work in the field of animal welfare.
I dont want to be like kids that drop out and dont get their high school diploma, she said. Because I have a dream.
She was an 11th grader at Mary Phillips High School, an alternative school in East Raleigh, when she withdrew June 30 of last year.
All three are being held in the Wake County jail without bail.
Family members of all three were in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon when they briefly appeared before a judge. Reddens mother, Tammie Hansley, sobbed and looked toward the ceiling when her daughter was led into the courtroom, clad in a gray and white jail garment, her ankles shackled.
Anthony and Smith, both in orange and white-striped jail garb, politely said Yes, maam when Judge Jacqueline Brewer asked whether they understood the charges and that they could face the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole if they were convicted of first-degree murder.
Huggins-Jones 8-year-old daughter found her in a bedroom in their apartment at 441 Allister Drive in the unfinished Allister North Hills apartment complex. The girl found construction workers at a nearby building and asked for help. One of them called 911.
A dispatcher was ready to give the worker instructions in CPR when he told her Huggins-Jones was cold and clearly dead.
Publics help was sought
Tuesdays arrests came hours after Raleigh officers set up an overnight checkpoint at Six Forks Road and Ramblewood Drive, near Huggins-Jones apartment, and handed out a flier asking the public for help in getting any information that could help them solve the case.
Police have not said how long Huggins-Jones had been dead when her daughter found her, but the flier asked drivers whether they had seen any suspicious vehicles or any persons who were seen walking in the vicinity between 10 p.m. the night before and 8 a.m. the day she was found.
Her daughter found her about 7:30 a.m.
Huggins-Jones moved from Tennessee to Raleigh three weeks ago to manage a new bank branch. She was divorced, and her former husband remained in Tennessee.
During the investigation, detectives obtained a search warrant for Huggins-Jones Facebook page, which she had deleted three days before she was found. It now appears that the decision was not connected with her death.
Staff Writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.