A Leesburg man has been sentenced to 45 years in prison for murdering his girlfriend in 2022.
Alphonza Bryant, 41, was arrested about two weeks after 37-year-old Melissa Keonna Smith was found lying on the floor in the laundry room of her home. She appeared to have been shot and was pronounced dead at the scene.
On Monday, Bryant pleaded no contest to charges of murder in the first degree and possession of firearm by a felon after being slated for jury selection that morning. He is to serve his sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections, including a mandatory 25-year minimum term, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
“Eyewitness testimony serves as a crucial pillar in prosecuting any case, let alone a murder case. Bryant knew the evidence stacked against him would weave the narrative of truth for jurors to convict him,” said William “Bill” Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Acknowledging this grim reality, we are pleased the defendant was sentenced to 45 years in prison. We hope this helps to bring closure to the tragic loss suffered by Melissa Keonna Smith’s family.”
The investigation revealed compelling surveillance footage from various locations near the victim’s residence. The footage captured the then 40-year-old Bryant in the vicinity leading up to the fatal shooting. Notably, a video depicted Bryant stealthily approaching the victim’s home, producing a firearm and engaging in a verbal altercation off-camera that culminated in a single gunshot, the SAO said.
Bryant’s escape from the scene did not go unnoticed, as other eyewitnesses saw him fleeing and dropping a firearm shortly after the gunshot echoed through the area, the SAO said.
The Leesburg Police Department quickly focused on Bryant, who had been dating Smith for about a week at that point. A friend of Smith told investigators that he had angrily left dinner at the home the day before after a neighbor beat him up over how he treated Smith.
Bryant was already in the Lake County Jail on an unrelated charge when the SAO collected enough evidence to charge him. He was originally facing first-degree premeditated homicide, armed burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He had just been released from prison a few months before in October after serving nearly 20 years for armed robbery.