Wake County prosecutors and defense attorneys spent much of Friday afternoon working out with Judge Paul Ridgeway what mitigating and aggravating factors could be presented to the jury that will decide whether Travion Devonte Smith gets the death penalty.
Prosecutors will go first on Monday as they stitch together evidence from the past week and the murder trial which they contend supports a death sentence in the case.
Defense attorneys will have the last word with the six women and six men of the jury before they go behind closed doors to make a decision about the sentence.
Smith, 23, was convicted on Tuesday of first-degree murder and felony murder for the bludgeoning death of Melissa Huggins-Jones, a 30-year-old mother of two, on May 13, 2013.
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The jury reached their verdict in just over an hour after a two-week trial in which defense attorneys pointed blame at Ronald Lee Anthony, the 25-year-old who pleaded guilty to the crime last fall in exchange for prosecutors agreeing to drop their pursuit of the death penalty against him.
Smith did not take a similar plea agreement.
The defense team has called family, social workers, teachers and others to the witness stand in the Wake County Superior Court room to describe Smith’s troubled life. His mother struggled with cocaine and alcohol abuse before he was born, and her family said this week that her behavior continued while Smith was living with her as an infant and toddler.
Smith and his three older brothers were removed from their mother’s care. Smith was 2 years old when he was sent to live with his father in what Smith’s half sister, Kristina Love, described as an unwelcoming atmosphere. Love recalled their father beating Travion at times and speaking harshly to him.
Social service workers testified that Smith struggled with mental health issues such as attention deficit disorder and depression. He was singled out in kindergarten as someone who needed extra attention at school and was removed from the mainstream classroom and enrolled in alternate programs.
Smith’s father threw him out of his house several months before Huggins-Jones was found dead inside her North Hills apartment, bloodied and lifeless while her 8-year-old daughter was down the hall.
Prosecutors called that daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones, now 11, to testify about the loss she suffered when, prosecutors contend, Smith and Anthony climbed up the side of the apartment building wall and pulled themselves over the balcony railing after breaking into cars and an apartment that day.
Defense attorneys plan to argue that Smith, a troubled youngster, never got the long-term treatment he needed. They plan to argue that not only did Wake County social services play a part in that, Smith’s father also played a role.
On Friday, prosecutors called a former probation officer, jailer and intern in the Wake County district attorney’s office to counter some of that narrative.
The probation officer said he had met with Smith’s father half a dozen times at least. On some of those occasions, the father, who had a criminal past of his own, was worried about the people his son was bringing to his home.
In 2013, when Smith was under house arrest at his father’s home, they got into an argument that eventually led to Smith being thrown out, forced to search for a new home that would comply with his terms of probation.
Smith’s father was troubled when he learned his son might have a child of his own. Smith’s father wanted his son to take a paternity test to make sure the child was his, and the two got into an argument over that. The probation officer said he tried to get father and son to see each other’s viewpoint, but that didn’t happen.
Smith’s father was scheduled to testify for the defense, defense attorney Phoebe Dee told the judge on Friday outside the presence of the jury, but couldn’t make it because of a doctor’s appointment.
A jailer who testified for prosecutors described Smith as openly disrespectful, saying she had to use pepper spray on him to force him to follow her orders.
Prosecutors also tried to poke holes in the testimony of Love, Smith’s half sister, by showing the jury several of her posts on Twitter to question whether her testimony was geared solely toward helping her brother. In one post, she took a selfie in front of the Wake County courthouse and said “Always riding for baby bro!” with a heart emoji and the hashtag #TravionSmithTrial.
Wake prosecutors said they had asked their intern to monitor social media for posts by witnesses in the case, a practice that is not uncommon.
Love later put her account on a private setting, blocking people who were not among her followers from seeing her posts.