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Prosecutors Can Seek Death Penalty for Man Accused of Shooting Neighbor’s 5-Year-Old Son in Head in Front of Two Young Sisters, Judge Rules

Cannon Hinnant, Darius Sessoms

Cannon Hinnant and Darius N. Sessoms

A 25-year-old North Carolina man accused of executing a 5-year-old boy in cold blood as he rode his bike in front of his two young sisters will be facing the death penalty if he is convicted in his impending trial. Superior Court Judge L. Lamont Wiggins on Thursday ruled that the state’s case against Darius N. Sessoms for the murder of Cannon Hinnant is eligible to proceed as a capital punishment case, Goldsboro CBS affiliate WNCN reported.

Sessoms appeared in court Thursday for a Watson Hearing held at the request of his attorney, Ernest L. Conner. A Watson Hearing is a proceeding in potential death penalty cases, in which the defendant attempts to require the state to specifically disclose “what aggravating factors it will use in seeking a death sentence.”

According to a report from The Wilson Times, Judge 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 Judge 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.”

Judge Wiggins reportedly reasoned that based on the available evidence, prosecutors with the North Carolina District Attorney’s Office for the Eighth Judicial District had met their burden to show the alleged crime entailed at least one aggravating factor required to proceed with a capital murder case under state law.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, the Wilson Police Department and Emergency Medical Services personnel responded to a 911 call at Austin Hinnant’s residence on Archers Road on the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2020. Upon arriving at the scene, first responders found Cannon unresponsive and attempted to perform life-saving procedures before rushing Cannon to Wilson Medical Center. Despite the efforts of medical personnel, Cannon was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the facility.

Investigators quickly identified Sessoms, who lived right next door to Austin Hinnant, as the primary person of interest and WPD detectives took him into custody at a home in Goldsboro one day after the fatal shooting with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service Carolinas Regional Fugitive Task Force.

Doris Lybrand, one of Cannon’s neighbors, reportedly testified on Wednesday that she witnessed Sessoms run from his house to Hinnant’s yard and place a handgun to the child’s head, Raleigh NBC affiliate WRAL-TV reported. She reportedly said she then saw “a burst of flame” followed by the boy collapsing.

The fatal shooting reportedly happened in front of Cannon’s two sisters, ages 7 and 8. Authorities still have not disclosed a possible motive.

Austin Hinnant, Cannon’s father, has repeatedly said there was “no bad blood” between him and Sessoms. The two reportedly had dinner together the evening before the fatal shooting and he is still in the dark as to the man’s motive for killing his son.

The last person executed in North Carolina was Samuel Flippen, who was put to death via lethal injection on Aug. 18, 2006 for the murder of his 2-year-old stepdaughter, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

[image via GoFundMe, Wilson PD]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.