Woman takes plea deal in 2011 murder
The family of James Damion Mack Jr. fought back tears as they spoke of how the 17-year-old was robbed of a future at the hands of a woman convicted Monday of his murder.
On June 18, 2011, Ebony Justine Smith, then 24, was charged with repeatedly stabbing the teen at a Kannapolis home where they lived following a domestic dispute.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Julia Gullett sentenced Smith to serve a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of nearly 13 years in prison. Smith was sentenced during an afternoon plea hearing where she agreed to accept an Alford plea for second-degree murder. An Alford plea occurs when a defendant does not admit the act, but admits that the prosecution could likely prove a charge.
She has been in the Rowan County jail since her 2011 arrest. Smith will receive credit for time spent in jail toward her sentence. She could’ve been sentenced to a minimum of nine years and a maximum of 23 years in prison.
Smith had been in a three-year tumultuous relationship with the teen. She met him through her husband, Shaun, James Mack Jr.’s uncle.
On the day of June 18, emergency dispatchers received a call from William P. Morrison, a man whom court officials said lived at the Guinn Avenue home where the murder occurred. He allowed the couple to live there. One of Smith’s two daughters also lived at the home and was there when Mack was killed.
Rowan District Attorney Brandy Cook read statements in court from witnesses and law enforcement regarding the events that led up to the murder.
Morrison told investigators he’d heard the couple fighting prior to Mack’s death, but was not in the room when the teen was stabbed. Morrison said he’d gone outside to smoke and drink a soda. When he came back into the home, Mack was stumbling toward the bathroom. The teen told Morrison he couldn’t see, walked into a wall and fell to the floor.
When Morrison called 911 he believed the teen had fallen because he hit his head. Upon arriving to the scene, emergency responders quickly realized Mack had been stabbed multiple times.
Smith was straddling Mack when responders went into the home, kissing him and crying, one firefighter told investigators.
Several family members attended the one-hour hearing, but only two people spoke. Yvonne Green, the fianceé of James Mack Sr., who tearfully recalled she met the teen 11 years ago through her son.
Green said Mack, who was known as “J Mack” or “Jay,” became closer to his younger sister, Jamesia, after their mother died of heart failure at the age of 32.
She told the court had Mack still been alive the family would’ve likely been preparing to see him play college basketball.
“That will never happen,” Green said, “she took away all the possibilities he had.”
Angela Joseph read from a letter submitted by Mack’s great-aunt, Harriette Ford, who could not be in court for medical reasons. Ford was the teen’s guardian.
Ford said the teen was “brutally and mercilessly murdered before he had the time to live.”
Ford said Smith took advantage of Mack, a hurt and confused child, who never fully recovered from losing his mother.
“She murdered his spirit, his drive and ambition long before she murdered him,” the letter said.
She said James was a “17-year-old who had everything to live for and died for no logical reason.”
The family adamantly refutes Smith’s statement to police that the teen cut himself with a pocketknife after the two fought. The family said the teen was left-handed and could not have stabbed himself on the left side.
Morrison said he had to restrain Mack once when the teen cut his own neck with a knife after the couple fought.
An autopsy revealed the fatal wound occurred to Mack’s left chest area. He also had stab wounds to his left forearm arm and left thigh. A toxicology report revealed Mack had a blood alcohol count of 0.13, nearly twice the 0.08 legal limit.
Morrison told detectives there was a kitchen knife missing that investigators believed could’ve also been used in the murder, but it has yet to be found. The bloodied pocketknife was found closed inside Smith’s bedroom along with a pair of blood-stained women’s pajama bottoms and a white sleeveless, blood-stained T-shirt.
Smith told investigators the couple had a violent relationship and that Mack had hit her at times. She said they would break up but always get back together.
The night Mack was killed, Smith said Mack told her he was going to walk to her friend’s house to get the charger they’d left there. When he left, Smith locked the door. Mack quickly turned to ask Smith why she was locking him out. Smith said they fought and Mack pushed her.
She told investigators Mack cut himself. Smith told detectives she didn’t know how her pajamas became bloody and she didn’t know how Mack’s blood-stained T-shirt and the pocketknife found its way into her bedroom.
Smith did not speak. Her attorney, Salisbury’s James Davis, said his client was there to take responsibility. He said Smith’s children are now seven and 10 years old, Davis said.
He said Smith had worked in different fields including as a certified nursing assistant and in the restaurant industry. Smith’s mother also attended the hearing.