An Orange County jury on Thursday found a Chapel Hill man guilty of killing a 14-month-old girl on Christmas Day 2015.
The four-men eight-women jury found Ramone Jamarr Alston guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Maleah Williams and of discharging a firearm into an occupied property Thursday.
As the judge polled the jury, Maleah’s mother, Tylena Williams, broke down. She then was escorted out of the courtroom crying.
“You killed my baby!” she yelled. “Y’all know it!”
Superior Court Judge Becky Holt sentenced Alston to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“I’m disappointed, and we have asked for an appeal to continue the judicial process,” Alston's attorney, Jonathan Trapp, said after the verdict. He said he would not have changed his defense strategy.
“It was a tough case, and we have a young girl who died on Christmas Day,” Trapp said. “I had a lot to consider.”
'I was not there'
Alston was driving a silver Dodge charger down Trinity Court apartments on an unseasonably warm Dec. 25, 2015. Families had gathered outside Trinity Court apartments playing with new presents when bullets rained from Alston’s car that stopped near a dumpster.
One of those bullets hit Maleah in the back of the head as her mother held her in her arms. She died in the hospital three days later.
Both sides agree that Alston was driving the car but disagreed on whether whether he participated in a plan to confront and possibly shoot someone at the apartment complex.
Prosecutors say Alston not only knew about a plan to confront someone in that crowd, he stepped out of the car and also shot a gun.
In an interview with police, which the jury watched the video of again during its deliberation Thursday morning, Alston initially said he wasn’t there.
“I told you already I was not there,” Alston told two officers in an interview.
“The jury is not going to look at you right when,” witness after witness says they saw you there, one of the officers told him.
Alston later told them he was driving Pierre Je Bron Moore to the apartments to confront Jaylen McNair.
Alston said when he saw McNair he got scared and decided he wanted to move on. As he was driving away, he slowed down for a speed bump and Moore jumped out and “just started shooting,” he said in the interview.
“I am telling you I did not have any intention of killing,” Alston said in the interview.
One of three initially charged
The jury deliberated about three hours Wednesday afternoon. Jurors returned at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and watched Alston's police interview again, at their request, and resumed deliberating again around 10:15 a.m.
Alston, 24, was one of three Chapel Hill men charged with first-degree murder in Maleah's death and with discharging a weapon into an occupied property after the shooting.
Moore, 25, also faces those charges. His trial date has not been set.
The jury was asked to consider those charges, as well as second-degree murder if they didn't think Alston was guilty of first-degree murder. A second-degree murder doesn't involve premeditation or deliberation.
In cases such as this one, sometimes defense attorneys consider a conviction to a lesser charge than first-degree murder, which is an automatic life in prison sentence, a success.
In 2016 prosecutors dismissed charges against a third man, Shaquille Oneill Davis.
During the trial, jurors visited Trinity Court and heard from Alston, who testified Tuesday.
In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman laid out a scenario in which an incident involving Davis and McNair earlier that day led to the shooting.
Around noon, Nieman said, the men got into a fight at Trinity Court, a 40-unit public housing community off North Pritchard Avenue in Chapel Hill. The fight ended with McNair taking money and marijuana from Davis, the prosecutor said.
Davis left, but said, ‘I am coming back,’” Nieman said.
Davis went to a nearby apartment complex, met up with Alston, Moore and another person and planned to return to Trinity Court to get McNair, Nieman said.
Alston also believed then that McNair was one of the men responsible for breaking into Alston’s home three times in June 2014, threatening him and his family, Nieman said.