The jurors who will decide whether Travion Devonte Smith committed first-degree murder and should be sentenced to death heard the defendant on Monday in his own words.
Late in the afternoon, prosecutors played the beginning of a videotaped interview that Smith had with police on the night he was arrested.
Smith is one of three people accused of murdering Melissa Huggins-Jones, a mother of two and newcomer to Raleigh who was found bludgeoned to death inside her North Hills apartment on May 14, 2013.
Huggins-Jones had recently moved to Raleigh from Tennessee with her 8-year-old daughter after splitting up with her husband.
With a new job at a Triangle bank, Huggins-Jones was starting anew and expecting her son to join her after finishing his school year in Tennessee.
But those plans were ended on a warm May night, when she was struck in the head and stabbed repeatedly by intruders who left her fatally injured.
Ronald Lee Anthony and Sarah Renee Redden have been described as accomplices that night in a spree that started in a North Hills shopping center, where the trio stole GPS units and other electronics from parked cars.
Redden testified last week to some of their movements that night. Redden, who described herself as a lookout, faces a first-degree murder charge, but acknowledged on the witness stand that she hoped to strike a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid lifetime imprisonment.
Anthony pleaded guilty in the fall to first-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors’ agreement to drop their pursuit of capital punishment against him.
Prosecutors told Judge Paul Ridgeway, who has presided over the Smith trial in Wake County Superior Court, that they hoped to finish presenting their evidence by Thursday.
Testimony on Monday came mostly from detectives who laid out details on how they arrived at Smith, Anthony and Redden as their suspects.
Though it was several weeks after the death, investigators homed in on their suspects after testing a laptop stolen from an apartment in the same building for DNA.
Investigators collected a shoe print at the scene that prosecutors contend implicates Smith.
Redden testified that Smith was on the balcony on May 13, 2013, wiping down the railing. She did not go inside the apartment, she said, but was acting as a lookout for Smith and Anthony from the parking lot below the second-story patio.
The defense team has acknowledged that Smith had been breaking into cars, but they argue that Anthony is responsible for the murder.
In the beginning of the seven-hour video from the police interrogation of Smith, the detective lets him know that a stolen computer he was being questioned about had been associated with “a crime where somebody had died.”
Jurors went home for the evening before much of the video had been played.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors spent about 30 minutes with the judge earlier in the day, arguing outside the presence of the jury about tactics police had used during their questioning of Smith.
The investigators tried to play Anthony, Redden and Smith off of each other while they were in separate interviews with police.
Some of the statements the investigators used bent the truth, defense attorneys argued. The judge agreed to have prosecutors cut out the portion of the interview in which the investigator asked Smith about his probation.
Most of the other portions of the video objected to by the defense will be played for the jury, though the judge will instruct them that statements investigators said the other defendants made are not to be considered “for the truth of the matter.”
When the jury returns on Tuesday, the trial is expected to resume with more of the videotaped interview of Smith by police.