Virginia woman with Down syndrome slain by neighbor after moving into own apartment

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Virginia woman with Down syndrome who recently moved out on her own for the first time was brutally raped and slain last month, and a neighbor has been charged with her death.

David Jasante Cunningham, 40, of Alexandria, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Melia Angelic Jones. According to prosecutors, Jones, 23, was sexually assaulted and strangled Dec. 4 before being wrapped in a blanket with a bag over her head.

She was found by her father and stepmother three days later, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Maana Parcham said in court last week, according to The Washington Post.

Parcham said that detectives found Cunningham’s fingerprints in Jones’ apartment. His DNA was also found on her body, including under her fingernails.

“It was an extremely brutal murder,” Parcham told the court. “It was an extremely violent scene.”

Cunningham, who was arrested Jan. 11, has denied involvement in the homicide, the Post reported. His defense attorney, Damon Colbert, said his client’s DNA was found on Jones because they were friends who had a “somewhat amorous” relationship.

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Colbert described their “flirty relationship” as one that included sexual contact, but said his client denied having intercourse with Jones, NBC Washington reported.

“This is a genuine whodunit,” Colbert argued in court. “Because he was in her unit, they’ve now pinned this on him.”

Alexandria police officials said officers were called around 2:40 p.m. Dec. 7 to the Mason at Van Dorn apartments in Alexandria’s West End neighborhood. When they arrived, they found Jones dead inside her unit at the complex.

Her death was ruled a homicide the following day.

In her obituary, Jones is described as a hardworking young woman who lived her life to the fullest. A 2016 graduate of Mount Vernon High School, she graduated in 2020 from the Pulley Career Center.

“While at Pulley Career Center, she worked at Crystal City Marriott Hotel as a housekeeper and banquet service representative,” the obituary reads. “She was awarded Employee of the Month on two separate occasions.”

Jones went on to work as a kiosk stocker and customer service representative at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where she was repeatedly awarded for perfect attendance and as an employee of the month.

The Post reported that Jones was employed until the pandemic began but that she still lived alone at the time of her death.

Her family recalled her love of music.

“Melia enjoyed dancing and singing to her favorite artists, including Michael Jackson, Big Time Rush, Elvis Presley, Arianna Grande, Justin Bieber (and) all gospel artists,” her obituary reads. “Melia deeply loved each member of her family, and richly enjoyed family, friends and classmate gatherings.

“She will forever be remembered for her gentle and sweet spirit.”

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Neighbor Paul Chauvin told NBC Washington that he bonded with the young woman after seeing her doing the moonwalk one day at the apartment complex.

“I went over there and I gave her a hug, and we became pretty decent friends,” Chauvin said. “I would be proud to say, if she were my sister, that she was my sister. That’s the kind of person she was.”

Jones’ brother, Andre Jones III, reiterated in his sister’s obituary guest book how much she loved to dance and sing. He shared a video of his sister cheering for the Fort Belvoir Bulldogs when she was younger.

“She was an honorary cheerleader, assistant coach and team mascot,” Andre Jones wrote. “Love you forever, MJ!”

Mary McAlevy, who was Jones’ counselor at Mount Vernon, wrote that Jones was “always quick with a smile, laugh and hug.” Employees and former students at Pulley Career Center also remembered her.

“I will miss Melia. She was my friend,” former Pulley student Elizabeth Klein wrote.

“Melia, your light will continue to shine through all your beautiful memories, photographs and videos,” Mallory Sutherland wrote. “Many of my fondest memories from Pulley include you and your ever-contagious smile. You will never be forgotten.”

Michael Symanski agreed, saying the former student touched many lives at Pulley.

“Melia had a special way about her,” Symanski wrote. “She could light up a classroom, a hallway, a whole school, simply by her smile.”

Colbert, Cunningham’s defense attorney, said in court last week that his client relocated to Alexandria from New York in 2020 to be closer to his ex-wife and their children. Cunningham, whom he said struggles with crack cocaine addiction, was working at a Coca-Cola warehouse.

His only criminal history consists of a 16-year-old gun possession charge in New York, the lawyer said.

“This man should be allowed to go back to the community … to fight for his life,” Colbert said, according to the Post.

A judge disagreed. Cunningham is being held without bond at the Alexandria Adult Detention Center.