Jury to decide if Travion Smith will be sent to death row

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The jury will decide if Travion Smith will be sent to death row (WTVD)

The Wake County jury that convicted a man of beating and stabbing a Raleigh mother to death began hearing evidence Wednesday morning in the death penalty phase of Travion Smith's trial.

That phase began at 9:30 a.m.

Smith was accused, along with two other suspects, of the murder of 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones, who was found by her 8-year old daughter beaten and stabbed to death inside their North Hills apartment in May 2013. He was convicted Tuesday after less than an hour of deliberations.

The defense says it expects to wrap up its witnesses Thursday before the jury begins deliberating whether to send Smith to death row. Most of the witnesses have talked about how Smith and his siblings were severely neglected as children.

The first and only witness called by the prosecution was Huggins-Jones' now 10-year-old daughter. However, because Hannah Jones is a minor, the judge ruled the courtroom camera would be turned off during her testimony.

Hannah Jones sat in the witness chair and calmly told jurors about the night of May 13, 2013, at the apartment where she had just moved with her mother in North Hills.

She told jurors she remembered hearing a scream in the middle of the night, but went back to sleep. She said she and her older brother miss their mother. Family and friends in the courtroom cried, but she maintained her composure.

The defense's first witness was Smith's mother, Antoinette Smith. She talked about how Smith's father abused her when she was pregnant.

"Do you think he punched you in the stomach for any particular reason?" Smith's attorney asked Antoinette Smith.

"Cause he didn't want the baby from me, that's what I'm thinking," Antoinette Smith replied. "He didn't want that baby, but I had him anyway. You know, 'cause that's my baby boy."

In her closing argument Tuesday, defense attorney Phoebe Dee told jurors there are some facts in the case that are not in dispute. She said Smith was with Ronald Anthony Jr. and Sarah Redden in the neighborhood breaking into cars on the night of the murder.

She called Huggins-Jones' murder "brutal" and "senseless". She was "beaten to death over some stuff," said Dee.

But she said Smith did not kill her and he and Redden "were just there."

She described Smith as being someone who was heavily under the influence of Anthony, who she said has an outsized personality.

She also admitted that Smith was not completely truthful with police during a 7-hour interrogation.

"Did he tell the whole truth to the police? No," said Dee.

In his closing, prosecutor Jason Waller told jurors Smith and Anthony climbed up to a second-floor balcony and got in to Huggins-Jones' apartment through a sliding door. Redden allegedly acted as lookout.

Waller attacked the defense idea that Smith was under Anthony's influence.

"Where is the evidence that Ronald Anthony made Travion Smith do anything," he asked.

Waller also pointed out that Smith told others details about the case that only someone in the room would know. He said Smith was the first to hit Huggins-Jones to keep her from screaming.

Smith did not testify in his murder trial and the defense did not put on evidence - instead asking Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway to dismiss the charges. The request was denied.

Smith's decision not to take the witness stand in his defense came after the prosecution rested Friday morning following a state medical examiner's testimony about the wounds Melissa Huggins-Jones endured before her death.

Medical Examiner Lauren Scott told the courtroom that it would have taken several minutes to an hour for Huggins-Jones to die, and that she would have been aware she was dying.

Last September, Anthony pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The plea deal spared him the death penalty.

Charges against Redden, who agreed to testify against Smith, remain.

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