Prosecution rests in trial of man charged in Portsmouth toddler’s shooting death

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Testimony resumed Monday in the trial of a man accused of murdering a Portsmouth toddler. Prosecutors rested their case against 20-year-old Jerry Atkinson Jr. after calling several witnesses to the stand.

Atkinson is among three men charged for the shooting death of 18-month-old Dion Lofton Jr. Prosecutors say it happened after an attempted armed robbery went “horribly wrong” at a home on Maple Avenue. Marquis Hinton and Anthony Holley previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the 2015 incident.

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.

There is no dispute over whether Atkinson was present when the violent incident occurred; his defense attorney, Andrew Sacks, agrees that his client was at the scene, but argues he wasn’t inside the home when shots rang out. Sacks claims Atkinson was outside at the time, under the assumption that his friends only went to the home to buy marijuana.

Prosecutors called Holley, now considered an “adverse” witness, to the stand. Holley told jurors that his previous statements to police, which implicated Atkinson as a co-conspirator, were false. The convicted felon stated that he had been “under pressure,” and told police “what they wanted to hear.”

Prosecutors later called Justin Dillon, a convicted sex offender, to the stand. Dillon reportedly called the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office last week after seeing the trial in the news. He testified that Atkinson had been his jail cell mate for a month, and that the defendant confessed to having initiated the robbery scheme after previously visiting the Maple Avenue home and observing drugs and money on a table. Dillon told the court that Atkinson had claimed he was in fact outside of the home when the incident turned violent.

Sacks called Dillon’s testimony “inherently incredible,” noting that no other witness has testified to Atkinson having been at the home prior to the attempted robbery. He further stated that the testimony contradicts the prosecution’s overall argument that Atkinson had been inside the home.

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Sacks called several witnesses to the stand before court was adjourned for the day. Dawn Riddick, Atkinson’s mother, told the court that she had spoken to Lofton Jr.’s mother shortly after the homicide, and that she stated she did not see Atkinson when shots rang out.

Hinton was also called to testify, but pleaded the fifth amendment.

Hinton pleaded guilty in August of 2016 and was sentenced in October to 40 years with 10 suspended, leaving 30 years to serve. In court, it was revealed that he is appealing.

Holley pleaded guilty last year as well and is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Sacks noted that Holley is risking his chance at a lesser sentence for ultimately not cooperating as a witness for the prosecution.

“Why risk that jeopardy?” Sacks asked him during his cross-examination.

He responded: “To tell the truth.”

The trial will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday with testimony from additional defense witnesses.