Sarah Rene Redden, one of three people accused of having a hand in the bludgeoning death of a woman found dead in a North Hills apartment two years ago, told Wake County jurors Thursday that she was a lookout for two others that night.
Redden, who is awaiting her own first-degree murder trial, testified that she was with Travion Devonte Smith and Ronald Lee Anthony on the night that Melissa Huggins-Jones, a mother of two, was killed in her apartment.
Smith is on trial on allegations of first-degree murder, charges he disputes in a case that could result in the death penalty.
Anthony, who has been described by Smith’s defense attorneys as the culprit in the case, pleaded guilty last fall to first-degree murder as part of a plea arrangement. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in his case.
Redden, who testified in gray and white prison clothes, was in a romantic relationship with Anthony on May 13, 2013, when Huggins-Jones was killed.
Redden testified that she was not inside the apartment that night and that she and the two men, whom she described as having a brotherly relationship, had been breaking into cars in North Hills.
She told jurors the three wore gloves and were taking GPS units and other valuables.
On the balcony
At one point, Redden said, she was separated from the men.
Prosecutors contend that was when Smith and Anthony climbed up the second-floor balcony of the apartment that Huggins-Jones had just moved into.
Huggins-Jones had arrived in Raleigh in May 2013 to start anew after splitting up with her husband. She had a job at a bank, and her 8-year-old daughter, Hannah, lived with her in the apartment. Her son remained in Tennessee, where she had lived previously, to finish out the school year before joining them.
Earlier in the week, a carpenter who had been working at a construction site near the North Hills apartment recounted how Hannah – barefoot, crying and dressed in a nightgown – alerted him early on May 14, 2013, that her mother was bloodied and not responsive.
Prosecutors contend that Smith struck the first-blow to Huggins-Jones the night before. In previous court hearings, prosecutors have said Anthony and Smith took turns stabbing her after that.
Redden testified on Thursday that she saw Smith on the balcony that night wiping a railing with a shirt. She said she asked him where Anthony was and he pointed to the inside of the apartment.
She told him she had seen a police car in the area and that they needed to leave.
A friend of Anthony’s picked them up, Redden and others have said. Redden said she saw Anthony show the friend a bloody knife.
Too young for strip club
The four then drove to a strip club called Flashbacks, Redden told the defense team.
She said she and Smith, neither of whom were 21 at the time, remained in the car while Anthony, 23, went inside with the person who gave them a ride.
Jonathan Broun, a defense attorney, pointed out that Anthony had changed his shirt after coming out of the apartment and that Redden had said Smith’s shirt looked like it had specks of blood on it. Broun also pointed out that Anthony put the knife in a book bag.
While Smith and Redden waited outside the strip club for Anthony and his friend, few words were exchanged.
“Travion was quiet that night,” Broun asked, and Redden agreed. “He normally is much more goofy,” Broun said.
The men came out of the strip club. The next stop was a Super 8 Motel. Redden paid for the room.
While there, according to testimony, Smith asked Anthony: “What the hell just happened?”
Defense attorneys have used that phrase to argue that Smith was not the one who committed the homicide.
Prosecutor Jason Waller asked Redden to further interpret the phrase.
“You characterized that as ‘Man, I can’t believe what happened,’” Waller asked Redden.
“Yes,” she responded.
Though prosecutors have not offered Redden a plea arrangement in exchange for her testimony, Broun pointed out that she was hoping to negotiate a plea that would not result in a sentence of life in prison with no opportunity for parole, as is law with a first-degree murder conviction for people 18 and older in North Carolina.
“I would like to go home,” Redden replied as her attorney watched from the courtroom gallery. “I’m just here to tell the truth. I would like to go home, but that’s not why I’m here today.”
The defense team has described Anthony as a charismatic manipulator who surrounded himself with vulnerable people such as Redden and Smith. Redden also testified Thursday that Anthony had a violent streak and hit her sometimes when she did not do what he wanted.
Earlier, before the jury heard Redden testify, lawyers asked her questions in front of Judge Paul Ridgeway. At one point, she said that after Smith and Anthony came out of Huggins-Jones’ apartment, she heard Anthony say: “She screamed, and I had to shut her up.”
The trial is expected to last several weeks.