Bonny Parker took a few deep breaths. She dabbed her tears with a tissue. She paused for several seconds and addressed the court after the man who shot and killed her 5-year-old son pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be standing here,” Parker said. “In fact, I still find myself hoping this is some nightmare that I will soon wake up from.”
Prosecutor Joel Stadiem said 28-year-old Darius Nathaniel Sessoms shot Cannon Hinnant in the head, killing him on Aug. 9, 2020. Cannon had been playing in the front yard of his father’s Archers Road home along with his sisters and aunt when the fatal shooting took place.
Superior Court Judge L. Lamont Wiggins sentenced Sessoms to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sessoms entered an Alford plea, in which the defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges there is likely enough evidence to ensure a conviction. The state previously sought the death penalty in the case.
The state arranged a plea agreement to prevent Cannon’s sisters and aunt from having to testify at Sessoms’ trial. The three children, all under the age of 10, witnessed the boy’s killing.
Parker said Cannon’s sisters and aunt will continue to live with the nightmare of what they witnessed that day for the rest of their lives.
“This is something they will never be able to unsee,” she told the court.
Parker said Thursday was the final phase in her fight seeking justice for her son.
NOT AN END, BUT A BEGINNING
Many tears were shed in the courtroom Thursday. Friends and family of both Cannon and Sessoms filled the pews.
Parker said Sessoms was old enough to know right from wrong. She told the court he chose “evil.”
“He chose to take an innocent 5-year-old boy’s life and leave me without any answers at all,” Parker said. “The ‘why’ will haunt me for all of my days, but love never dies.”
Sessoms, clad in a cream shirt, dark tie and brown pants, sat and listened as Parker addressed the court.
“You not only robbed Cannon of his life, but me of my future,” Parker said. “We will never get to see Cannon grow up. I won’t get to watch him fulfill all of his dreams and all of the dreams that I had for him.”
When the nightmare began, Parker said, she didn’t think she could survive if Sessoms’ sentence didn’t mirror the one he gave her son. But she knows Sessoms will never see life outside the prison walls.
“There can be no closure here today, but our hope is that Cannon’s tragic death will not be an end, but a beginning,” she said. “Our demand is that Cannon’s life will live on long past this day. My bond with my son continues. I know that his spirit awaits me. I know that I will see him again.”
She also had stern words for Sessoms.
“I pray that the devil keeps your seat warm until it’s your day to join him,” she said.
OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE PLEA
Stadiem said Sessoms walked back to his parents’ house after he shot and killed Cannon and they were able to get the gun away from him. Parents Garland and Carolyn Sessoms previously told The Wilson Times their son appeared to be hallucinating that day and may have been on drugs.
The Sessomses were neighbors of Cannon’s father. They heard a gunshot and ran outside to find their son running around with a gun and acting strangely. They also feared for their own lives that day, they previously said.
After the killing, Sessoms fled and drove to 23-year-old Aolani Takemi Marie Pettit’s home in Wilson. The two share a child and were dating at the time. Sessoms asked Pettit to take him to her mother’s home in Goldsboro, according to prosecutors.
Pettit’s court-appointed attorney, Damian Tucker, told the court Thursday that when Pettit saw Sessoms, he was acting “out of sorts.” Tucker said Sessoms told her he needed to get out of town. She wasn’t aware of what happened. When she later found out, she encouraged Sessoms to turn himself in to the authorities.
Pettit pleaded guilty Thursday to felony obstruction of justice. She previously faced a charge of acting as an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. She received a suspended sentence of four to 14 months and 18 months supervised probation.
‘I DID WHAT WAS BEST FOR CARLY AND AVA’
District Attorney Robert Evans also addressed the court Thursday. He said throughout his career, he’s seldom prosecuted a case that had such a traumatic impact not only the family, but the Wilson community and beyond.
“It’s unthinkable what occurred here,” Evans said.
He told the court he hoped Thursday’s outcome brought peace for the family, but also for the children as it prevented them from testifying if the state proceeded to trial in the capital case. He said the prospect of motions and hearings regarding a possible death sentence could have lasted 15 to 20 years.
Parker said she was OK with Thursday’s plea arrangement.
“He will be in there for the rest of his life,” she said.
Parker said the outcome has brought her some peace.
“But justice? No,” she added.
Parker said she and her family as well as prosecutors were able to protect her daughters, Carly and Ava, from reliving the trauma they endured that day.
“It was too much,” she said. “I did what was best for Carly and Ava.”
Cannon’s sisters have been in trauma-focused therapy since the tragic death occurred.
Cannon’s killing made national news and prompted an outpouring of support for his family. Motorcyclists held memorial rides to raise money, an artist painted a mural in downtown Wilson to honor the slain 5-year-old and a crowdfunding campaign collected six-figure donations.
Cannon’s family donated $400,000 to the city of Wilson to spearhead the Miracle Field project at the J. Burt Gillette Athletic Complex and a renovation of the All-Children’s Playground, which is already completed.
Family members said the remainder of fundraising proceeds are in a trust for Cannon’s siblings and will pay for trauma-focused therapy and college.
After Sessoms was sentenced, Parker and her family left the courtroom to an adjacent room. Sessoms was able to see and talk with his parents along with his defense attorneys, Alicia D. Cassidy-Quate and Ernest L. Conner Jr.
Tears streamed down Sessoms’ face. His parents were crying, too. Other family members and friends were seated nearby. They all told him they loved him.
“I love y’all too,” he said.