A North Carolina man will spend the rest of his life behind bars after copping to a plea deal allowing him to accept criminal responsibility for the murder of a 5-year-old boy more than a year ago. He stopped just short, however, of admitting his guilt.
Darius N. Sessoms, 25, entered an Alford plea on Thursday in Cannon Hinnant‘s shooting death, according to WRAL. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
An Alford plea is where a defendant maintains his innocence but concedes that the state has enough evidence to convict him. With that outcome, Sessoms dodges avoids a possible death sentence. Prosecutors in Wilson County were seeking capital punishment.
Authorities have said that Sessoms, a neighbor, ran out on Aug. 9, 2020, put his gun to Cannon’s head as the boy was riding a bike, and pulled the trigger. The boy’s two sisters, age 7 and 8, saw it happen.
Locals and family expressed shock. There was no indication of problems between him and Hinnant’s family. Cannon’s father Austin Hinnant has mentioned sharing a beer with Sessoms the night before the shooting.
“We used to play together and I never thought he’d kill someone,” Rachel Pipkin, who is a cousin of Hinnant’s mother, told WXIN shortly after the incident. “A mother now has to lay her son to rest at 5 years old which she should never have to do. He’ll never be forgotten.”
Witness Dori Lybrand said she initially believed Sessoms was playing with the children.
“My first reaction was he’s playing with the kids,” she said, according to WRAL. “For a second, I thought, ‘That couldn’t happen.’ People don’t run across the street and kill kids.”
Austin Hinnant reportedly said he heard a gunshot and found his son on the ground.
“[You] can’t imagine what it’s like to hold your son in your arms with a gunshot wound to the head, and his blood is running down your arms,” he told WRAL.
Cannon was scheduled to start kindergarten the following week. Sessoms was arrested in Goldsboro, North Carolina, after a brief manhunt.
Prosecutors announced in January that they were seeking the death penalty. A judge recently paved the way for them to move forward. According to a report from The Wilson Times, Judge L. Lamont Wiggins told the court that he reviewed memoranda from prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as physical and testimonial evidence presented both in open court and “in camera” (i.e., in private). Such evidence reportedly included footage from police body cameras, autopsy photos, and photos of the weapon Sessoms allegedly used in the shooting.
Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem reportedly argued that the evidence shown to Wiggins in private illustrated that Sessoms showed “unusual depravity of the mind.” He reportedly added that there was no precedent for a case “where a defendant has walked over to a 5-year-old playing in his own yard and walked up to that child and intentionally shot this child in the head.”
Cannon’s mother Bonny Parker said the sentencing “brings us a little bit of peace.”
“Knowing that we are walking out of here today and we don’t have to come back,” she told WRAL. “We don’t have to see him. My girls do not have to testify in court. That was the whole reason why he took this plea. It was best for him to take this plea so it would not have to get our girls up there.”
Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.
[image via GoFundMe, Wilson PD]
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