Opening statements underway in trial of man accused of killing Raleigh mom

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Murder trial
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Melissa Huggins-Jones' body was discovered by her 8-year-old daughter.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Lawyers made their opening statements Tuesday in the trial of one of the teenage suspects in the 2013 murder of a Raleigh mother.


Travion Devonte Smith is one of three people charged in the death of 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones.

Wake County assistant prosecutor Melanie Shekita told jurors that 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones was brutally beaten to death.

"This was not a one-time punch," said Shekita, saying the mother who had recently moved to Raleigh from Tennessee for a job suffered multiple injuries consistent with premeditation.

Huggins-Jones' body was discovered by her 8-year-old daughter who ran from their apartment in Raleigh's North Hills community on May 14, 2013. Two construction workers found the girl and helped her call 911.

Shekita said detectives got their first break in the case when they found a computer for sale on Craigslist that was related to the killing. That led them to Smith, Ronald Lee Anthony Jr., and Sarah Redden.

Shekita said Smith, Anthony, and Redden were breaking into cars in the neighborhood before breaking into Huggins-Jones' home.

The men allegedly took turns stabbing Huggins-Jones after they shimmied up onto the second-floor apartment's balcony and found an unlocked door.

Anthony Jr. pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last September. The judge sentenced Anthony to life in prison without parole. The plea deal spared him the death penalty.

RELATED: Suspect pleads guilty to Raleigh mother's 2013 murder

Smith's defense says that Anthony was the killer, and not Smith.

"We are here to determine who is responsible for Melissa Huggins-Jones' death," said defense attorney Jonathan Broun.

Broun said Smith was immature for his age and easily manipulated by others.

"Ronald Anthony defended him. Ronald Anthony gave him a place to live," said Broun, who told jurors the older man began to manipulate him.

"It was Ronald Anthony who killed Melissa Huggins-Jones'," said Broun. "Travion never intended for anyone to be killed."

Redden's attorney has said she wasn't in the apartment when Huggins-Jones was killed. She has agreed to testify against both men. Redden also faces charges in connection with the crime.

RELATED: 3 arrested in murder of north Raleigh mother

Smith's attorney has said Redden originally said both men took turns stabbing Huggins-Jones because she didn't want her boyfriend, Anthony, to take all the blame.

In November, a judge refused to take the death penalty off the table for Smith. The trial could last a month or longer.

After opening statements Tuesday, the two construction workers who came to the aid of Huggins-Jones' daughter testified about finding the woman's bloody body. They said it was clear she had been dead for some time.

Huggins-Jones' mother also took the witness stand and talked about the day she got the news.

"It's like I, I heard it but I didn't hear it. And I didn't understand. And I went inside," said Dawn Wallace as she broke down in tears.

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