defendant takes stand in murder trial
By Brenda paiz
Hason K. Cleveland, 28, and Danielle Hilling, 24, are tried for first-degree murder of Ebony Brown on New Year's 2006, who they allegedly shot, burned and decapitated.
Brown was Cleveland's girlfriend of six years.
The trial is currently being held at Monongalia County Courthouse. It began on April 18 and has provided a substantial amount of evidence for the jury including surveillance videos which captured Cleveland assaulting Brown and another video that shows Hilling and Cleveland buying axes and cleaning products.
Several witnesses have also provided their testimonies to the case, including Hilling's cell mate, who said that she admitted to shooting Brown and Hilling's sister, Nina Jefferson, who was present at the time of the alleged murder.
On Monday, Hilling took the stand and contradicted many statements made by Cleveland's attorney.
Hilling was asked several questions about her personal life and family life during her direct exam.
She also said that she was separated from her husband, is a high school dropout and is an unemployed mother of two.
Despite already having a current boyfriend and husband whom she has yet to divorce, Hilling had a "love relationship" with Cleveland.
"He was somebody I could talk to," Hilling testified. "He had a really good relationship with my kids."
Brown, who had been living with Cleveland at the time, had allegedly borrowed a red Focus car, which had been rented for Cleveland by his friend.
Hilling claims that Cleveland called her to pick him up so they could search for Brown and the red Focus.
After spotting Brown, Cleveland jumped out of the car and chased Brown, assaulting her in public, as shown by the surveillance videos.
After leaving Cleveland, Hilling arrived home at 6:45 p.m. and left again later that evening to go to McFadden's for New Year's Eve.
"When I left, I wasn't planning on leaving with `Mega' (Cleveland), but he told me and my sister to get in the car and to go with him," Hilling testified.
Upon entering Cleveland's apartment, Brown walked in and asked why the two sisters were in her house. Hilling claims that Cleveland tried to calm her down, but the argument only resulted in Brown allegedly racing toward Hilling and Jefferson with two butcher knives.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, Hilling admits to hearing a gunshot shortly followed by her sister, Jefferson, running up to tell her that Cleveland had shot Brown.
Hilling stated that blood was everywhere in the apartment and only agreed to help Cleveland clean up and get rid of the body because she was afraid of what he would do to her.
In the following hours, Hilling stated that they put Brown's body in a bag, duct taped it, placed it in a box and carried it out to the trunk of the car.
Hilling described the following events as shocking.
Cleveland and Hilling had taken her body to Snowy Road, went to the woods to dig a hole so they could burn her body.
The next day, Hilling states that the two went back and dug out the body only to dig a deeper hole and reset the body on fire, while Cleveland used the axe they had purchased to "chop her."
Hilling stated the only discomfort she felt while burying Brown's dismembered body was due to the cold weather and her tired hands.
The testimony revealed that a male did approach Hilling and Cleveland, wondering what they were burning. Cleveland quickly stated that they were burning trash.
The two were incarcerated nearly a month after the incident and continued to stay in touch through mail throughout 2006 and early 2007.
Cleveland did not take the stand to testify on his own behalf.
The jury will determine the outcome based on the testimonies of witnesses and evidence and is said to have a verdict before the end of this week.
Published April 2007, The Daily Athenaeum