Trial continues for man charged in 1-year-old’s death

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — On the second day of a murder trial for a man accused in the 2015 shooting death of an 18-month-old boy, jurors watched a recorded interview between the defendant and police. The trial of Jerry Atkinson Jr. began Tuesday in Portsmouth. The defendant, as well as Marquis Hinton and Anthony Holley, were arrested and charged in the death of Dion Lofton Jr.

In the police interview, Atkinson denies being at the home when the shooting happened. Police tell Atkinson that he may not have pulled the trigger, but he was there. “Your whole life will be inside a cage,” a detective can be heard saying in the recording.

Detective L. Gibbs, who also took part in the interview, told the jury Wednesday that Atkinson maintained that he was not at the scene. He said the defendant did offer to have prints made of his hands.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William Nossen held up the bullet fragment he said struck surviving victim Sarah Sutton in the incident. She testified that she saw Atkinson come in the door of the house with a shirt over his face, and she started running because she heard gunshots. She spent four days in the hospital for a gunshot to her back, she said. Defense attorney Andrew Sacks pointed out inconsistencies between her testimony Wednesday and previous statements.

Late in the day, the jury heard from the doctor who performed the autopsy on the baby. He said the gunshot wound to Lofton’s face did not suggest the bullet struck anything else before hitting him. Jurors viewed photos of the victim.

The day before, Nikita Hayes sobbed on the witness stand, as a prosecutor held up the shirt her son was wearing the day he was killed.

Atkinson is facing 10 total counts, including murder. He pleaded not guilty to all of them.

Portsmouth police said in 2015 that officers were called to a home on Maple Avenue for reports of a shooting. Once there, they found Lofton with a gunshot wound to the head and a woman shot in the back, police said.

Dion Lofton, Jr.

In his opening statement Tuesday, Nossen said Lofton was the victim of an attempted armed robbery that went “horribly wrong.” Prosecutors could not say if the defendant’s bullet struck the victim, but the defendant did participate in a plan to rob with guns, Nossen said.

“What the evidence will prove is that this defendant actively participated in a plan to rob the residents…and he participated in that plan with the intent to get money from those residents,” he said.

Sacks argued that the evidence will not show Atkinson was in the house when the shots were fired and that the testimony will be confusing and contradictory.

“I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that that third person on that porch was Jerry Atkinson. Not there to commit a robbery, not there in a house with a gun, not there to do anything other than buy some weed, as innocent as he can be of the charges he’s accused of,” Sacks said.

Hayes previously said that when she tried to close the door, the men shot through it and a bullet hit her son in the head. She told 10 On Your Side in an interview she believed the suspects didn’t see her child beforehand.

He died at the hospital.

Police said other children and another woman were also inside the home at the time.

Anthony Holley, left, and Marquis D. Hinton, right, were charged in the 2015 shooting death of 1-year-old Dion Lofton Jr. Images: Portsmouth Police Department.

Holley pleaded guilty last June to first-degree murder and several other charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

Hinton entered a guilty plea in August of 2016, and was sentenced in October to 40 years with 10 suspended — leaving 30 years to serve.

Both Holley and Hinton were included among dozens of witnesses for the case. The trial could last three days.

Look for coverage of Atkinson’s trial on air and online.