A Wake County judge closed the courtroom on Friday in the Travion Smith trial to anyone other than court personnel, the jury and witnesses.
Paul Ridgeway, the Superior Court judge presiding over the murder trial, said he made the unusual move for security reasons. A jailhouse informant was worried about retaliation and asked for extra safety precautions.
The closed-door testimony concluded the first week of evidence in a trial that is expected to last several weeks. The judge’s decision was for one witness only.
Smith is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Huggins-Jones, a mother of two who was found dead in her North Hills apartment on May 14, 2013.
Prosecutors contend that Smith and Ronald Lee Anthony, a man serving a life sentence for the murder, bludgeoned Huggins-Jones to death during a robbery spree that started in a North Hills shopping center parking lot.
On Thursday, Sarah Redden, a co-defendant, testified about the hours before and after prosecutors have said the homicide took place.
Smith’s attorneys have acknowledged that he was breaking into cars that day, but they contend he did not commit first-degree murder.
The attorneys have pointed the finger at Anthony, the older of the three and a man the defense team has described as charismatic, manipulative and prone to angry outbursts.
Before the courtroom was closed Friday, witnesses described seeing Smith, Redden and Anthony at a Marijuana Anonymous meeting that Anthony had been ordered to attend by the court.
The trio was also seen at a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop where Redden and Smith got into an argument about what they had to reveal about criminal records on a job application. A manager at the ice cream store asked the two to leave, and that argument led to a further disruptive encounter at a Starbucks coffee shop nearby.
The ice cream shop manager had gone to Starbucks for a coffee, and Anthony went inside and provoked an argument with her that led to an encounter with a security guard.
Smith, Redden and Anthony were escorted off the North Hills property.
The three also were seen at a Bonefish Grill at North Hills between 10:15 and 11:30 p.m. A waitress there said the three made an impression on her because they left safety pins, push pins and golf tees on the table.