Antonio Prophet guilty of killing woman and 3-year-old child
By Edward Marshall -- The Journal (Martinsburg, W.Va.)
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Virginia man accused of killing a 22-year-old woman and her 3-year-old son before setting fire to their apartment in 2010 was found guilty Monday of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson at the end of a five-day jury trial.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for a little over three hours Monday afternoon before finding 36-year-old Antonio Prophet, of Lorton, guilty of murdering Angela K. Devonshire and her young son, Andre White, on the morning of June 6, 2010, in Bunker Hill.
The jury also made a no-mercy recommendation, meaning Prophet will spend the rest of his natural life in prison without the possibility of parole for his convictions on first-degree murder charges. He faces two to 20 years in prison for his conviction on first-degree arson.
Jurors broke for lunch before entering deliberations after hearing closing arguments in the case and returned with a verdict at about 4:15 p.m. Monday.
Tension in the courtroom was palpable as family members of the two murder victims waited with bated breath to hear the court's clerk read the verdict. Numerous court bailiffs and police officers surrounded the defendant and the attorneys in the case as a safety precaution in anticipation of the verdict.
As the guilty verdicts were read, the victims' family members breathed a sigh a relief and several began to weep as the 12 jurors were polled by the court, each responding "affirmative" that it was their true verdict.
Devonshire's father, Sidney Devonshire Jr., said he was grateful to the Lord for standing by his family throughout their ordeal.
"He never left us or has forsaken us. He gave me and my family a little bit of closure," he said of the verdict.
"May Angela and Andre rest in peace today."
The still-grieving father, who called Prophet "the devil," said the first thing he planned was to place flowers on the graves of his deceased daughter and grandson. He also renewed his call for the death penalty to be reinstated in West Virginia.
"I knew he was guilty all along. This is the reason why West Virginia needs the death penalty," he said.
Devonshire's mother, Elizabeth K. Devonshire, said she put her trust in God that Monday's verdict of guilty would come.
"It almost leaves you speechless," she said. "I'm thankful that justice was served for my child, and that I am at peace with."
She said she always believed the verdict would be guilty and thanked the judicial system and the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department. The lead investigator in the case was Lt. Gary Harmison.
"I'm so thankful for it. I feel that the Berkeley County judicial system did its job and did it well. I'm just thankful for the verdict of guilty," she said.
White's father, whose name is also Andre White, said he felt justice was served and thanked God, the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and the judicial system in Berkeley County for the outcome of the case.
"It's a good day for the good guys," he said.
Pam Miller, the late Andre White's grandmother, also thanked God for the verdict.
"God was in there," she said. "Angela was in the courtroom today and the holy spirit too."
After the jury left the courtroom, several of the victims' family members embraced one another weeping, as well as Berkeley County Prosecutor Attorney Pamela Jean Games-Neely and officers that were involved in the prosecution of the case.
"We're thrilled. It was tough case, but he is a storyteller," Games-Neely said.
Prophet himself remained silent when he was asked to face the jurors to hear their verdict.
His defense attorneys, Christopher Prezioso and Craig Manford, declined to make a comment about the verdict.
Devonshire and White were found dead after a fire at their above-garage apartment located at 69 Sidneys Way in Bunker Hill. Devonshire's 6-week-old son survived the incident and was found by family members unharmed on the back porch of the home of Devonshire's parents.
A subsequent investigation determined that both Devonshire and White had been killed before the fire started, and Prophet was the last known person to see them alive.
An autopsy determined Devonshire's throat was slit. Investigators believe there is evidence White may have also suffered a neck wound, but his body was too badly damaged in the fire for an exact cause of death to be determined.
Prophet fled the scene and was later apprehended by U.S. Marshals at a homeless shelter in North Carolina.
Prophet never denied being at the victims' apartment the morning of the murders, but he claimed he didn't commit them.
Cellphone records placed him in the area of the victims' apartment the morning of the murders and blood found on the surviving infant's shirt matched Prophet's DNA.
His attorneys had argued that there was little direct evidence that Prophet committed the murders or the arson.
"The test is one of reasonable doubt. Can you rely on this evidence without hesitation to convict Antonio Prophet?" Manford asked jurors during closing arguments.
Prophet, a crime fiction writer, took the stand last Thursday and Friday and claimed the two victims were killed during a home invasion perpetrated by two unidentified men that was orchestrated by another individual.
Games-Neely told jurors that Prophet's account of events was "all made up" and that he had two years to craft his story, which he told for the first time more than two years after the murders.
"If he doesn't sell you the book -If he doesn't sell you the story - he's looking at a life sentence," Games-Neely said. "A man who can kill a child can take the stand and that oath doesn't mean anything to him."
Games-Neely finished out her closing arguments by telling jurors that reason the state believes Prophet murdered White is because the young child could identify him.
"Little Andre couldn't identify strangers. Little Andre could identify Antonio Prophet," Games-Neely said.
West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes has scheduled a sentencing date in the case for Sept. 10.