WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

5 charges tossed, but life sentences stand

Appeals court reviews Crooms’ murder accessory convictions

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A former Wilson gang leader will remain in prison for the rest of his life in the 2011 shooting deaths of two young women after the state’s appellate court upheld the three most serious of his eight convictions.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Devon Shamark Crooms’ November 2015 convictions of two counts of acting as an accessory before the fact of first-degree murder still stand. He is currently serving two life sentences for those convictions.

A Wilson County jury found Crooms — who vanished during a lunch break on the second-to-last day of his November 2015 trial — guilty of several charges in connection to the deaths of 19-year-old Sha’Diamond Littleton and 20-year-old Shikia Hall, who were killed in a spray of gunfire outside a Five Points home.

After seven months on the lam, Crooms was extradited to Wilson County in June 2016 after Wilson police learned he had been jailed under an alias in south Florida for fairly minor crimes. He was sentenced that following August.

THE APPEAL

Through a public defender, Crooms argued in his appeal that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to convict him on the two counts of acting as an accessory before the fact of first-degree murder. He also argued that the indictments for those charges were invalid because the state insufficiently presented the elements of murder.

Crooms contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss those charges, claiming the state presented insufficient evidence that he caused David Applewhite and Tresvon Jones to kill the women and that there was a fatal variance between the indictments and evidence.

But the three-judge panel rejected his argument.

“We conclude the state presented sufficient evidence to support each and every element of the crimes and relevant theories to the state’s case,” Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr. wrote in the unanimous March 6 ruling. “We also conclude no fatal variance exists between the indictments and the state’s evidence. The state’s evidence supports each and every element of both the state’s charged offense and the theory associated with the charged offense.”

Hall and Littleton were sitting in a parked car outside 1011 Wilson St., a house where members of the 8 Trey gang were known to hang out. Police said Littleton and Hall were not the intended targets. The Nov. 9, 2011, attack was an act of retaliation by Neighborhood Crips gang members for a previous shooting into a Crips member’s home, according to court testimony.

Prosecutors said Neighborhood Crips leaders Emmanuel Holden and Crooms ordered Applewhite and Jones to fire into the Wilson Street home.

OTHER CHARGES VACATED

Crooms did win several procedural victories, but with two life sentences on the books, they won’t have a practical effect in his case.

The court vacated his convictions on four counts of acting as an accessory after the fact of first-degree murder, which additionally carried more than 20 years in prison.

Crooms argued that the trial court committed an error when it failed to instruct the jury that he could not be both a principal and an accessory to murder. The judges said a defendant cannot be a principal and an accessory after the fact for the same crime.

Crooms was also convicted of two counts of acting as an accessory after the fact of discharging a weapon into occupied property during his November 2015 trial.

Crooms argued that the trial court erred when it denied him a motion to dismiss one of those counts allegedly committed by Applewhite, who was acquitted of that same crime during his own trial in September 2015. The judges agreed and vacated one of the accessory to discharging a weapon convictions. However, Crooms will be re-sentenced on the other count based on a clerical error during sentencing at a later date.

Judges Lucy Inman and Phil Berger Jr. concurred with Hunter, who wrote the unanimous unpublished opinion for the three-judge panel.

In 2016, the Court of Appeals upheld Applewhite’s convictions on two counts of felony murder. Crooms and Applewhite were the only defendants in the case to face a jury.

Jones, Holden and Deshaun Long, who drove Jones and Applewhite to the scene, pleaded guilty and received sentences of 3-5 years (Long), 6 ½-9 years (Holden) and 11-14 years (Jones) for their roles in the killings.

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