Travion Smith told Raleigh police detective Eric Gibney that he heard a terrifying scream coming from the North Hills apartment where Melissa Huggins-Jones was found bludgeoned to death the night before her body was found on her bed, cold to the touch.
“It was just like a horrifying scream, like something you might hear in a horror movie,” Smith said during a videotaped interview the day he was arrested. “It sounded like panic.”
Smith is accused of first-degree murder in the May 13, 2013, death of Huggins-Jones. His trial began with opening statements on Feb. 2. If convicted, he could get the death penalty.
Smith is one of three people accused in the death of Huggins-Jones, a mother of two who had recently moved to Raleigh to start anew after splitting up with her husband.
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Her son was still living in Tennessee at the time of her death to finish out his school year. But her 8-year-old daughter was inside the apartment when the bludgeoning took place and sought help from a construction worker the next morning.
Ronald Lee Anthony, one of the accused, pleaded guilty in the fall to first-degree murder as part of an agreement with prosecutors to drop their pursuit of the death penalty against him. Sarah Rene Redden, also accused, testified last week that she had acted as a lookout for Anthony and Smith.
The three of them had been breaking into cars in the North Hills shopping center, stealing GPS equipment and other electronics that day.
It was a laptop stolen from the apartment below Huggins-Jones that led homicide investigators to Smith, Anthony and Redden.
Smith’s defense team has acknowledged that Smith was involved in the car break-ins, but pointed the finger at Anthony as the killer.
Prosecutors contend Smith struck the first blow to Huggins-Jones and said they planned to argue at the close of the trial that he was acting in concert with Anthony the day the homicide occurred.
Redden recounted in her earlier testimony that she had seen Smith on the balcony of Huggins-Jones apartment wiping down the railing. She asked him where Anthony, a man with whom she was having a relationship, was. Smith pointed to the inside of the apartment, Redden said.
Prosecutors also contend that a footprint at the crime scene matches the shoes that Smith was wearing on the day of his arrest. He told the investigator in the videotaped interview that he was wearing Anthony’s shoes on the day of his arrest.
Throughout the interview, the detective told Smith he had information from investigators interviewing Redden and Anthony that same night. The detective told Smith the others were pinning the crimes on him.
“They are putting it all on you, Gibney said. “You deserve an opportunity to tell your story.”
At one point, Smith told the investigator “everything I told you is the truth.”
Redden testified that she, Anthony and Smith called a friend to pick them up at the apartment complex that night. She saw Anthony put a knife in a bag and watched him change his shirt.
The next stop was a strip club, where Smith and Redden remained in the car as the other two who were older than 21 went inside. They then checked in at a motel before eventually separating.
Anthony, the defense team contends, had sway over Smith and Redden, who were several years younger than him. Defense attorneys argue that Smith and Redden, who was involved with Anthony even though he had a live-in girlfriend, were vulnerable to Anthony’s charisma and manipulative ways.
Prosecutors expect to wrap up their case this week. After playing the videotape on Tuesday morning, prosecutors spent the bulk of the day with investigators introducing forensic evidence.
The defense team has indicated it will call witnesses to testify in Smith’s defense.