A 21-year-old man accused of having a hand in the 2013 bludgeoning death of a woman in an apartment near North Hills made a series of requests in Wake County Superior Court on Monday in advance of his January trial date.
Defense attorneys for Travion Devonte Smith, 22, of Raleigh, were unsuccessful Monday in their attempt to take the death penalty off the table as a possible punishment in his case.
In a hearing that is scheduled to continue Tuesday, Jonathan Broun, one of Smith’s defense attorney, contended that prosecutors had withheld critical information that raises questions about the accusations against Smith.
Smith is one of three people charged in the death of Melissa Huggins-Jones, a mother and new arrival to Raleigh. Huggins-Jones had moved to Raleigh from Tennessee and had just started a new job. Newly divorced, she set up her home with her daughter, 8 at the time, and expected her son to join them after the school year.
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On May 14, 2013, the girl left the apartment and sought help from a construction worker, who followed the child to the apartment and the discovery of the crime scene.
Investigators did not immediately have suspects in the case.
But a laptop stolen from the apartment that turned up in Wake Forest with telling DNA evidence led investigators to Smith and two co-defendants. Also charged with murder in the case was Ronald Lee Anthony, a 25-year-old who has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and accepted a sentence of life in prison without parole in exchange for prosecutors dropping their pursuit of capital punishment.
Sarah Rene Redden, 20, also faces charges related to the case.
On Monday, Broun noted that Redden, initially described as the getaway driver, had changed her account of the night from her early reports to police. She initially said Anthony and Smith killed Huggins-Jones, but since then has recanted and shifted the primary responsibility to Anthony.
“She is now saying that it was Ronald Anthony and Ronald Anthony alone who killed Melissa Huggins-Jones,” Broun said Monday during the hearing presided over by Judge Paul Ridgeway. “Ronald told her that he stabbed her to death. Travion didn’t personally hit stab or hurt Miss Huggins-Jones, according to this statement. She also said she had no indication that Travion ever when into Ms. Huggins-Jones’ bedroom or was present in the room when Ronald Anthony killed her.”
Broun contended that Redden’s initial account of the night — that both men took turns bludgeoning Huggins-Jones — was offered because she did not want Anthony, her boyfriend at the time, to take full blame.
Broun argued that because Redden had changed her account to make Smith less culpable that he no longer should be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Ridgeway told the attorneys that at this point in the proceedings, the death penalty would remain an option, but that would not keep him from reconsidering such a request later in the legal process.