Eight women and four men were sworn in as jurors Tuesday for the trial of Antonio Prophet, who was indicted in February 2011 on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson in the deaths of Devonshire, 22, and Andre White, of Bunker Hill, W.Va.
Prophet, 36, of Lorton, Va., is accused of slitting Devonshire’s throat in her apartment at 69 Sydneys Way off Sam Mason Road on June 6, 2010, and setting the second-floor residence on fire in the rural southern Berkeley County community.
Billy Joe Faircloth, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., was the first of four state witnesses to testify Tuesday in Berkeley County Circuit Court. He said he was driving to Winchester, Va., when he saw flames 30 to 40 feet high, above the tree line, and called 911.
Faircloth’s call was recorded at 4:36 a.m., Berkeley County 911 services director Mary Kackley testified. Firefighters were dispatched within the next minute, Kackley said.
Among the first to respond was Berkeley County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Cochran. He testified he didn’t realize anyone was living in what appeared to be a three-bay garage until talking with Devonshire’s father, Sydney. The second-floor apartment where Angela Devonshire lived with her two children, Andre and Daronte, was on her parent’s property at 39 Sydneys Way.
Cochran testified that a large group of family members had gathered and phone calls were being made to talk with people who might have had contact with Angela Devonshire, not knowing she was inside. At one point, Cochran heard a family member yell that they found Daronte, who was born about six weeks before the fire, on the back porch of her parents’ house. The baby was wearing a T-shirt and a diaper, Cochran said. The child was given oxygen, and no signs of injury to the child were found, Cochran said.
Cochran said he was at the fire scene when firefighters found a body that was believed to be Angela Devonshire.
Assistant State Fire Marshal Patrick J. Barker testified he was unable to pinpoint a specific origin of the fire, but concluded the blaze was set in the living room area. That part of the apartment was the most heavily damaged, he said.
Jurors were shown more than 30 photographs of the fire scene, and a diagram Barker prepared showed where Devonshire was found face down with fire debris around and on top of her body on the garage floor. The fire caused the second floor to collapse and Devonshire’s body fell from what was the living room area of the apartment, according to Barker. Her son’s body initially was trapped in a space between the center garage door and the ceiling, Barker said.
An accelerant detection dog was only able to search limited areas of the second floor due to structural damage and no positive “hits” were made, Barker said. The intensity of the blaze also could have consumed evidence of an accelerant, Barker said. He testified that he was able to rule out any possible electrical cause for the fire.
In her opening statement, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely told the jury that the victims were burned beyond recognition.
Defense attorney Christopher J. Prezioso said in his opening statement that Prophet doesn’t dispute that he was at Angela’s apartment the night of the fire, but insisted his client was not responsible for the crimes. Prezioso said the evidence would show Prophet was the victim of a “brutal attack” and the murders and arson were orchestrated and carried out by other individuals. As foolish as it might have been, Prophet left the scene, said Prezioso, who is co-counsel with B. Craig Manford.
Prezioso also dismissed testimony expected from Joseph Medina, who Games-Neely said would testify that Prophet told him he killed Devonshire. Prezioso noted that Medina had given three statements to police and had been offered an incentive to testify as part of a plea agreement in an unrelated criminal case.
Games-Neely said that Angela Devonshire had recently had broken up with the father of her children and was trying to “get clean” from using heroin when she met Prophet, who claimed to be a published author and writer.