An Angelina County jury has sentenced Andre Montrel Woods to life in prison for the murder of Ashleigh Elijah.
Woods, 23, appeared alongside his attorneys John Reeves and Carter Meyers before state District Judge Paul White Tuesday for the punishment phase of his trial. On Friday, those jurors deliberated for 20 minutes before finding Woods guilty in the May 18, 2018, slaying. Police arrested Woods hours after the shooting.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before assessing Woods’ life sentence. Woods had a previous conviction of burglary of habitation in 2015, which the state, represented by assistant District Attorneys Ken Dies and Sandra Martin, used as an enhancement to Woods’ punishment.
Additionally, the jury determined Woods did not act in sudden passion when he shot Elijah twice in the street, and included a $10,000 fine as part of his sentence.
Dies and Martin called Lufkin police investigator Christina McKnight, Juvenile Probation director Mark Gorman and LPD detective Jamie Jinkins as witnesses in the punishment phase of the trial. During his closing argument, Dies said the jury should consider a longer punishment for Woods’ crime, and that the shooting was not a sudden act of passion.
“What is the value of Ashleigh Elijah’s life?” Dies asked. “Because in many ways, that’s what you’re going to decide today. She may not have been a president, she may not have been Mother Teresa, but she was loved.
“Ashleigh Elijah is entitled to justice and peace.”
Reeves and Meyers called Woods’ mother to testify about her recollection of the day Elijah was shot. Reeves noted his client’s youth and referred to him as immature due to his age in his closing argument. He said his client acted in the heat of passion during an argument that occurred before the shooting.
“I think the adequate cause has been there,” Reeves said. “These two people are fighting, his mother is saying, ‘Please, please.’ Ashleigh will not leave his mother’s house.
“Was it good? No. Was it the best choice? No.”
Martin dismissed the argument before the shooting as ''drama that Woods got mad about.'' She also went over his prior criminal history, which dated back to when he was 17. She said Woods deserved life in prison for taking Elijah's life.
“This is a dangerous man — Ashleigh’s killer and a threat to our community’s safety.'' Martin said. ''There’s no respect to other people’s property, no respect to authority and no respect to life.
“Her family’s grief will never be forgotten. Those tears will still flow.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Woods remained at the Angelina County Jail awaiting transfer to prison.
Oscar Elijah, Ashleigh Elijah's grandfather, gave a victim impact statement following the sentencing outside the jury’s presence.
“We enjoyed being with her,” he said. “We were very proud of her when she walked across the stage at her high school graduation. We knew the sky had no limits for her and that she was coming into her own life.
“We were the ones that loved her the most, we will always miss her the most.”
Kenyotta Elijah, Ashleigh Elijah's mother, also gave a statement.
“She wanted to be a nurse, she wanted to help others, she wanted to support herself,” she said as she went over her daughter’s upbringing and aspirations. Ashleigh Elijah left home before high school and eventually had a child. She was an organ donor, her mother said, and her organs helped several others live.
“My biggest regret in life is not being there to protect her. I pray she forgives me. I pray when we see each other again, none of that matters.”
She went over her heartbreak as she stayed with her daughter in the hospital and her eventual death. In regard to Woods, Kenyotta Elijah said she could not forgive him. She also thanked the Lufkin Police Department, Angelina County Sheriff’s Office and Angelina County District Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation of her daughter’s death.
“As long as (Woods’) family can speak to him, I can feel no peace,” she said.