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WV Supreme Court upholds murder convictions in 2010 killing of 22-year-old Berkeley County woman, 3-year-old son

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The WV Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld the twin murder convictions of Antonio Prophet, who was sentenced to life without mercy for killing his 22-year-old girlfriend and her 3-year-old son and then torching their garage apartment in Berkeley County, WV, in June 2010.

Angela Devonshire and her son, Andre, were murdered. Angela Devonshire's throat had been slit before the building was set on fire, but Andre's body was so badly burned investigators could not determine a cause of death.

Another son, 6-week-old Daronte, was left on his grandmother's patio unharmed, although his clothing was blood-spattered. At trial, court records indicate an expert witness testified the blood on the baby's clothes was Prophet's.

Authorities said Prophet was taken into custody in North Carolina.

Prophet had testified in his own defense at trial, claiming Devonshire and her son were murdered because she owed a drug dealer money. He claimed two men working for the dealer came to collect for the debt and the situation turned violent, with one of the men slitting her throat and killing the child while the other took him to the garage in search of something of value to steal. When he saw the two bodies, Prophet told the trial court he maced the attackers, snatched the baby and fled.

He'd suggested the blood on the baby's clothing came from cuts he sustained during a knife attack by one of the intruders.

Prosecutors, however, pointed out the incident was eerily similar to a novel Prophet had written several years earlier in which the two main characters were drug dealers and the wife of one of them is killed and his young child seriously injured in a home invasion. A character in the novel also had his throat slit, the court was told.

It's unclear if the manuscript was published.

At trial, the prosecutor emphasized the similarities between Prophet's real-life trial testimony and his novel.

A Berkeley County Circuit Court jury subsequently found Prophet guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, without a recommendation of mercy, as well as arson. Judge Christopher C. Wilkes denied Prophet's post-trial motions for acquittal and a new trial, and he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for each of the murders and 20 years for arson, with the sentences to run consecutively.

On appeal, Prophet argued that there wasn't enough evidence to prove he'd murdered the pair or set the fire, claiming the prosecutor presented evidence only that he had the opportunity and that he'd fled West Virginia after the murders.

He also claimed the prosecutor's focus on his novel was irrelevant, that the court had erred in allowing the prosecutor to ask questions about what he had told Devonshire's father, Sydney, about the murders and because the judge had refused to instruct the jury that "proof of opportunity to commit a crime in not sufficient to establish guilt ..."

He also alleged both the prosecutor and the trial judge had made improper remarks during his trial, and suggested the prosecutor allowed Joseph Medina, a drug dealer who testified against him, "to present false and perjured testimony."

The justices, however, noted there was ample evidence indicating Prophet had been at Devonshire's apartment at the time of the murders, adding that a "rational trier of fact" could conclude he had more than enough time to kill the two of them as well as decide how he wanted to do it.

"There was not one, but two killings here," the court wrote. "A reasonable person could infer that after killing Angela, the petitioner killed Andre because the petitioner knew that Andre, but not infant Daronte, could identify him, which is evidence of premeditation."

The justices also said there was nothing wrong with the prosecutor's questions about the novel or what he told Sydney Devonshire, or in Wilkes' instructions to the jury, since he had instructed them that they could not convict Prophet unless they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed the crimes.

They said Prophet failed to show the prosecutor presented false testimony and that his own attorney had effectively impeached Medina’s testimony by demonstrating his untruthful character, prior convictions, and numerous inconsistencies in his statements to police.

"It was for the jury to determine Mr. Medina’s credibility, and this Court will

not second guess the jury on this issue," the justices said, adding that Prophet had also presented "a long laundry list of allegedly improper comments by the prosecutor (but) after considering each comment, this Court finds no reversible error."

The justices also said much of Prophet's complaints about the handling of his case "consists of frivolous assertions of bias which this court deems wholly unnecessary to address."