Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about Smoot being charged.
Durham police arrested a security guard in connection with a shooting at the HomeTowne Studios hotel on Highway 55 in South Durham on Aug. 23.
Reginald Smoot, 24, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, according to Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael. He served three days in the county jail before posting a $100,000 bond.
Michael said Smoot was employed as an unarmed security guard at the extended-stay hotel but was not on duty when the shooting happened.
According to a search warrant, witnesses told investigators the security guard shot Vincent Smith, 45, on the third floor of the hotel. Smith was found with a single gunshot wound in his left chest. No information on his condition was available.
Before and during the shooting, Smith used his iPhone to record a fight with the guard, the warrant said. He began recording after the security guard pulled a gun on him, according to Smith.
Managers at the hotel declined to comment on the shooting.
The HomeTowne Studios hotel, located in the 5000 block of Highway 55, has been the site of two other shootings this year. On August 9, a man was shot in the arm at the hotel. And in January, 28-year-old Wallace Hayes was found shot to death inside his room.
After he pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday, Travon Evans will spend at least 12 years in prison for killing his grandmother, Carolyn Hemingway, and stabbing his 4-year-old brother. He’ll get credit for the more than five years he’s already spent in jail since he was arrested.
But that sentence didn’t satisfy Hemingway’s brother Julius Robinson, who stood in the courtroom and addressed Evans.
“I am a Christian, but it doesn’t make it right for what Travon has done,” Robinson said. “He hasn’t gotten enough time for what he did.”
Then, he asked why Evans did it.
Evans whispered in his attorney Dawn Baxton’s ear. He didn’t want to answer.
Baxton spoke on his behalf. “He does want the court to know and his uncle to know that he is sorry for what happened to his grandmother,” she said.
Before the Tuesday hearing, the 22-year-old sat on a cold wooden bench with his head down, looking at the floor through oversized aviator glasses with his hands cuffed. His orange Durham jumpsuit didn’t hide that he had gotten much heftier since he committed the crimes when he was 17.
Scarred by a violent household growing up, Evans had post-traumatic stress disorder. He was immature for his age, prosecutors said. That reduced his culpability, according to prosecutor Kendra Montgomery-Blinn.
With credit for time served, that meant he could be in jail for between six and a half and about 10 years in prison. That didn’t sit well with Robinson, who noted how Hemingway had cared for Evans.
“She took him in at six years old and raised him,” he said of his sister. “She showed nothing but love for him.”
Montgomery-Blinn provided a detailed account of the crime. She said Evans had cut the lights. Police found his grandmother dead and bloody in bed. Beside her in bed were an unharmed baby soaked in Hemingway’s blood and a large kitchen knife.
In the ambulance, his brother said what happened.
“Tra had tried to make it dark and scary,” he said. “Tra killed my meemaw with that old ugly knife.”
Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry says many people mistakenly believe all crimes are the same, that if “somebody pees in your yard, they’ll come back and kill you the next day.”
The reality, though, is that “somebody who pees in your yard usually has housing issues, substance abuse issues, all these other things that are harder to deal with if you have a criminal record.”
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters and editors from The 9th Street Journal on Sunday, the new DA said her goal is to prioritize prosecutions of violent crime but show more restraint about prosecuting people for lesser crimes. She has implemented a policy that no longer seeks cash bail for most non-violent misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Her goal is to avoid penalizing people who cannot afford to pay.
Deberry says her reforms are beginning to show results. She says she has slashed average jail stays from 19 days four years ago to about five days in her first six months in office. She also has expanded programs to bring together victims and defendants to help them move forward.
A former defense attorney and housing advocate, Deberry is part of a wave of progressive prosecutors hoping to address mass incarceration and racial disparities in the halls of justice. Deberry says it’s important to consider the consequences of giving people a criminal record.
“A criminal record is a huge barrier for people,” she said. “We want to think about when we create criminal records for people why we do and then focus our resources on the most violent crimes that are happening in Durham.”
Her first six months have brought a lot of turnover: about half of her office has been replaced since she beat incumbent Roger Echols. She said she interviewed everyone in the office and gave them all the chance to talk to her. Some chose to leave. Others chose to stay, didn’t like her work and later left.
After graduating from Duke Law School in 1994, Deberry became a criminal defense attorney. She hated prosecutors. Now, she’s one of them.
“If a prosecutor told me the sky is blue, I would have to walk outside because I would think they lied,” Deberry said.
Given her background and approach to systemic discrimination, she was skeptical when people pushed her to run for district attorney. She decided to run after doing research and concluding that it was possible to put more emphasis on prosecuting violent crime and helping victims.
She says she’s reorganized the office to create more specialization among the prosecutors. Her office now has six teams, including a homicide and violent crime unit, so prosecutors are more fluent in the law and “intelligence” around their topic. Other teams include a drug and property crime unit, a traffic team and a special victims unit.
One of the challenges Deberry’s reorganized office has faced was grappling with a homicide backlog of nearly 100 cases. In her first half-year in office, she closed 22 cases, 15 by getting guilty verdicts, according to a report from her office.
But she said there was heartache from other cases that her office had to dismiss because of a lack of evidence. That was particularly hard on family members of people killed and it can undermine confidence in the office.
Deberry said she also wants to continue to expand its restorative justice efforts that unite victims and defendants in hopes of healing.
“Every defendant is a member of our community. Whether they go to prison or not, at some point they return to our community,” Deberry said. “So how do we repair this violation so people are able to move on with their lives even after they’ve been held accountable?”