A tragic case came to a close as a Virginia man was handed down three life sentences for the heinous se*xual assault and “extremely violent murder” of a 23-year-old woman with Down syndrome.
Melia Jones, who had recently embarked on a journey of independence by working and living on her own, fell victim to a brutal attack by a neighbor. Described as a success story and a constant source of joy by her teachers at the Pulley Career Center in Fairfax County, Jones’s life was tragically cut short.
On December 7, 2021, her father discovered her lifeless body in her apartment. Reports from WRC-TV revealed the horrifying details, with her body found wrapped in a Hannah Montana blanket, her T-shirt tied around her neck, and a plastic bag over her head. The apartment was in disarray, with furniture overturned.
Jones had suffered a merciless se*xual assault and had been strangled to death. The Medical Examiner ruled her death as a homicide. Police made an arrest on January 11, 2022, taking 42-year-old David Jasante Cunningham into custody in connection with Melia’s murder.
Security camera footage from the day before the incident captured Jones happily dancing outside her apartment building while waiting for a food delivery. Cunningham can be seen in the footage, making contact with Jones and following her to her apartment.
During the investigation, detectives discovered Cunningham’s fingerprints on an aerosol spray can in Melia’s bedroom. Furthermore, Jones’s blood was found on the bottom of Cunningham’s sandals, which he was wearing on the day of the murder, according to security video evidence.
Law & Crime reported that Cunningham initially claimed to have only kissed Jones but later changed his story, alleging consensual se*xual activity. However, his DNA was found under the victim’s fingernails. Cunningham’s defense attorney, Damon Colbert, mentioned his client’s crack cocaine addiction in 2022 while asserting his innocence, suggesting that his DNA at the scene could be attributed to their sometimes “amorous” friendship.
Throughout the trial, Cunningham never confessed to the murder and refused to offer an apology. Cunningham was convicted of aggravated murder and two counts of object se*xual penetration. Prosecutors sought the harshest possible sentence for his crimes. Finally, on Thursday, he received three life sentences for the se*xual assault and murder of Melia Jones.
Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter expressed his satisfaction with the outcome, stating, “Today, a predator has been held accountable for the knowing, premeditated se*xual assault and murder of a precious human being. The defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison, where he can contemplate and confront his vile and vicious acts. He deserves no better. However, rather than dwelling on the defendant, I choose to focus on the beautiful, love-filled life lived by Melia Jones.”
Melia’s obituary reads:
- While in high school, Melia participated in two Flags Across America events honoring deceased veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, She also participated in multiple community cleanup events. Also during high school, she participated in the Work Awareness and Transition (WAT) Program. During October 2015-June 2016, she worked at Fort Belvoir [Army] Commissary and was awarded Employee of the Month. While at Pulley Career Center, she worked at Crystal City Marriott Hotel as a housekeeper and banquet service representative. She was awarded Employee of the Month on two separate occasions. While employed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as a customer service representative, she earned the Perfect Attendance Award and Employee of the Month for Accomplishments and Exceeding Expectations. In the role of kiosk stocker (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport), Melia was awarded the Perfect Attendance Award in Oct 2019-Mar 2020.
Melissa Bindocci of Pulley Center said, “Melia was just a ray of sunshine always, and she just brought hope and laughter and lightness and just pure joy every day.”
Cunningham’s defense team reportedly plans to file an appeal.