ANDERSON, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The Anderson County Sheriff's Office has now confirmed that baby Leonna Wright, who went missing more than five years ago, has died. The agency also says two suspects are charged with her death. On Thursday, one of those suspects is expected to face a judge.
In an update Wednesday night, ACSO says one of the suspects was arrested and charged, while another suspect is currently serving a prison sentence and has a detainer in place to be charged at a later date.
Our crews captured video of one of the suspects, now confirmed by deputies as Travis Devon Jones, being taking into the Anderson County Detention Center just before 10 p.m. Wednesday night. He was listed online later in the night, officially charged with homicide by child abuse. Such a charge carries a possible prison sentence of 20 years up to a life sentence. Jones was also charged with two counts of failure to pay child support. Jones is expected to face a judge sometime on Thursday.
Online records indicate the offense date for Jones' homicide charge was June 6, 2015, the same day Leonna Wright went missing.
The second suspect, identified by the sheriff's office on Thursday as Donnie Roderick Jones is currently incarcerated in the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Upon release, he will be served with warrants for accessory after the fact and destruction or desecration of human remains.
The Office of the Tenth Circuit Solicitor first released details on Wednesday that warrants have been obtained by the Anderson County Sheriff's Office in the case of missing baby girl Leonna Wright, but the sheriff's office is slamming the solicitor for releasing the information.
A press release from solicitor David R. Wagner indicates the warrants were filed recently, but noted Wagner had not yet been able to review the case previously submitted by ACSO.
Full statement from Wagner follows:
I am aware that warrants have been obtained by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office at the direction of Sheriff McBride in the matter of the tragic case of Leonna Wright. As a courtesy to the Sheriff’s Office I agreed to review the Leonna Wright case file prior to any charging decision being made. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office has declined to return this courtesy by waiting until my review was complete prior to charging. I cannot speak to the appropriateness of these charges until the full review process is finalized to ensure the high standards of evidence that we require for prosecution have been met. Therefore, my Office considers this matter to remain an on-going open investigation, and for that reason I will not be commenting further at this time.
We would eventually hear back from the sheriff's office, who slammed the solicitor's office for releasing the information regarding the warrants. According to ACSO, this could now lead to a potential flight risk for any suspects in the case, along with creating a safety risk for officers trying to apprehend anyone deemed a suspect.
ACSO also says the Tenth Circuit Solicitor's Office has had the case file for review since January 2020, and that detectives presented the facts of the case to a magistrate who found probable cause to issue the warrants.
ACSO will hold a press conference on formally charging the two suspects on July 9 at 2 p.m. at The Carl Anderson Law Enforcement Center.
Full statement from ACSO follows:
We feel that the early release of the information regarding the case of Baby Leona Wright by the 10th Circuit Solicitor's Office is potentially reckless and unorthodox. We are in somewhat disbelief that these actions have occurred as it is not normal standard procedure.
The release of this information was done prematurely and can now potentially cause a flight risk of suspect(s) in this case. It also creates an officer safety risk for those involved in trying to apprehend the suspect(s).
Additionally, the 10th Circuit Solicitor’s has had the case file for review since January 2020. Anderson County Sheriff’s Detectives recently presented the facts of this case to a Magistrate, who found probable cause to issue arrest warrants.
The ACSO will have no further comment until arrests have made.
FAMILY FACES JONES AT BOND HEARING
Travis Jones would go through a bond hearing around 5 p.m. Thursday. During the hearing, the judge noted he would be denied bond for the homicide by child abuse charge, which she highlighted carries a possible prison sentence ranging 20 years to life. Jones was assigned a public defender for the case.
Leonna's parents both took an opportunity to address Jones via video call. Her mother made her sentiments clear: she has to deal with the loss of her baby constantly.
"I have to live with this every day," she said. "You don't know what you've done to my family."
Leonna's father then took his stand, unloading anger as he spoke.
"I just want to know why, bro?" he questioned. "The only thing I did right in my life was my kids."
He noted the last time he saw his baby girl was her birthday, playing with her in the water, his last memory of Leonna her being calm and happy.
"The only thing I did right in life, and you took it," he said.
Jones took time on his own to respond, maintaining his own innocence along with his brother's.
"I've done nothing. Me and my brother have done nothing wrong and that's all I've got to say," he said.
As the judge announced bond wasn't to be set, a member of Leonna's family began wailing in the courtroom and was escorted out. The judge then provided others in the room instructions to pass along to the family, but also took time to warn Jones' actual trial may not begin for another two years with other cases backed up in part due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Leonna went missing on June 6, 2015 from the Edgewood Square apartment complex in Pendleton. She was just one year old at the time.
Investigators say Jones, her mother's boyfriend, was watching Leonna before her disappearance while her mother attended a party that night. Initially, investigators were told Leonna likely walked or crawled out of the front door after another 3-year-old child opened it for her, but they say the story was not true.
The search for Leonna included several other agencies searching for miles around the apartment, and they even searched nearby landfills and dumpsters.
In 2018, Anderson County sheriff Chad McBride named Jones a person of interest in the case. Jones served time for an unrelated child neglect case after Leonna's disappearance, along with unpaid child support.
In 2019, community activist Traci Fant released a new age progression photo of what Leonna Wright would look like. During a press conference then, McBride said he believes several people could have information on Leonna's disappearance, including Jones' brother, Roderick Jones.
This year, McBride, Fant, and Leonna's family marked what is Leonna's sixth birthday. The mayor of Pendleton declared June 5 Leonna Wright Day of Awareness.