Victims' family members, medical examiner testify in double murder trial

Autopsies indicate mother, son were dead before fire destroyed home

July 11, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Angela K. Devonshire, 22, and her 3-year-old son, Andre White, were killed in their Bunker Hill, W.Va., residence June 6, 2010.
File photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — From her kitchen, the Cape Cod-style apartment a short distance away appeared very dark and peaceful to Elizabeth K. Devonshire in the early morning of June 6, 2010.

There wasn’t even a crack between the neatly pulled curtains of the home that her husband, Sydney, had built atop a three-bay garage for their daughter, Angela Devonshire.

That image was shattered little more than 90 minutes later when the couple awoke to see the apartment at 69 Sydneys Way engulfed in flames.

“The worst nightmare” of Sydney Devonshire’s life was unfolding before him a short distance from their home at 39 Sydneys Way off Sam Mason Road in southern Berkeley County.

The fire that was reported at 4:36 a.m. was determined to have been intentionally set, and the bodies of their 22-year-old daughter and 3-year-old grandson, Andre, were found in the charred remains of the two-story structure.

Antonio Prophet, 36, of Lorton, Va., was indicted in February 2011 on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson in their deaths. Wednesday was the second day of his trial in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

State Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Nabila Haikal testified Wednesday that autopsies of the bodies revealed that neither victim inhaled smoke from the fire, which led her to conclude they died before the blaze. Haikal told jurors that Angela Devonshire died from a sharp force injury to her neck and the bleeding that resulted.

Devonshire’s death was ruled a homicide.

Haikal testified that she found a cut in the woman’s throat and that the paleness of Devonshire’s internal organs indicated she had bled significantly from the injury.

When questioned by Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, Haikal said Andre’s body was burned beyond recognition. Both victims were not positively identified when they arrived at the state medical examiner’s office in Charleston, according to Haikal.

While unable to give a cause of death, Haikal concluded that Andre also died before the fire.

Jurors on Wednesday also heard testimony from Devonshire’s parents and her brother, Sydney Devonshire III, Berkeley County Sheriff’s Lt. Gary Harmison and individuals who saw or received phone calls from Prophet within hours after the fire.

Devonshire’s father testified Wednesday that he told firefighters that four people, including Prophet, his daughter and her two boys, were in the apartment.

He testified Tuesday that his daughter called him while he was working on “a million dollar barn” project near Shepherdstown and asked if he would pick up Prophet after work so they could spend time together. Devonshire said he was told that day, June 5, was Prophet’s birthday.

Devonshire said he last saw his daughter and Prophet about 8 or 8:30 p.m. after they drove his wife’s vehicle from their house to the apartment.

Angela Devonshire’s brother testified that he retrieved his mother’s car when he dropped off a bag containing baby formula for her youngest boy, Daronte, at the apartment. Devonshire’s brother told the jury that Prophet was sitting on the couch at the apartment watching television. Prophet was going to stay there overnight, he believed.

Before Prophet’s visit that Saturday night, Sydney Devonshire recalled he had visited three other times, including Memorial Day weekend, when he joined the family for a holiday picnic.

“I treated him like he was part of the family ...” Devonshire said. In the beginning, Devonshire said, he believed Prophet was a decent person.

Devonshire testified that the first time he met Prophet, the defendant told him he worked in the insurance business and was on vacation for a week or so. Prophet also said he was a writer and gave Devonshire a business card, he testified.

Devonshire’s mother testified Wednesday that the apartment appeared “very dark and peaceful” when she awoke about 1 a.m. and again at 3 a.m. to check on them.

Devonshire’s parents acknowledged on the witness stand they were trying to help their daughter overcome drug problems and that Angela was scheduled to enter a rehabilitation program in Charleston, W.Va., the Monday after her death.

Devonshire said her daughter was going to be able to take her youngest son, who was born little more than six weeks before the fire, with her.

Elizabeth Devonshire testified that she and her sister were shocked to find the infant lying on a chair in a patio area that leads to the kitchen of her home. The child was not in the fire and was unharmed, she was later told.

The jury also heard testimony about how mobile phone calls made from Prophet’s phone were tracked by police in southern Berkeley County the night of June 5 through the early morning of June 6.

Records of phone calls placed with Prophet’s phone show that it was relying on the Sylvan Run cell tower when calls were made until after the fire was reported, according to testimony by Harmison and a Sprint Nextel radio frequency engineer.

At 4:48 a.m., a phone call made with Prophet’s phone relied on a Clear Brook, Va., cell tower, which is near the Berkeley County-Frederick County, Va. line.

Bradley Mounts testified that he gave Prophet a ride from the vicinity of an auction business near the Virginia line to the Capital Heights area of Martinsburg. A friend of Mounts initially received calls from Prophet about 4:30 a.m., but she refused, according to testimony Wednesday.

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