LARGO — "They'll learn not to mess with Bethel Heights."
That's what four young men were saying after they drove away from the April 2009 shooting that pumped more than 50 bullets into a St. Petersburg house, one of them testified Friday.
Mario Lewis Walls testified that all four of the men, including himself, were "hyped up" and boisterous right after the shooting, essentially congratulating themselves for sending a message to a rival gang.
But that was before they realized an 8-year-old girl inside the house had been killed.
Instead of sending a message from one gang to another, the shooting prompted community outrage over a senseless death.
And on Friday, Walls provided what may be the only eyewitness account of the killing the jury will ever hear. Walls was testifying in the murder trial against the three other men he says were in the car: Dondre Davis, Stephen Cortez Harper, and Duong Dai Nguyen, all 21.
Walls, also 21, testified that he was the driver, that Harper helped get the guns and that Davis and Nguyen fired the assault rifles.
But he said he didn't learn what really happened until the next day when Nguyen phoned and said: "Somebody got killed, a little girl got killed."
And one more tidbit: "The police had got Stephen Harper."
Walls detailed the shooting but also described a rivalry older than he is — a simmering animosity between Bethel Heights and the Harbordale neighborhood — that was behind the fatal shooting.
The four men in the car were aligned with Bethel Heights, based at the Citrus Grove Apartments off 16th Street. They were angry with a group called 8-Hype, based in the Harbordale neighborhood, Walls said.
In particular, Walls said a Harbordale man known as "Monster" — Markeath Fielder — had shot in their direction earlier in the evening outside of the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg.
So, Walls said, he and others drove to the Harbordale neighborhood where Davis shot into a group of about eight people in front of a house on 20th Avenue S.
And then, he said, they went to Citrus Grove Apartments where some in the group got assault rifles out of Harper's apartment.
According to Walls, Harper said he knew where "Monster" sometimes stayed, so he directed them to 771 Preston Ave. S.
They went there to kill him, Walls said.
They drove in a red Ford Focus with a Tweety Bird sticker on one window, with Davis and Nguyen holding the assault rifles, Walls said. Walls drove them to the house, but no one was outside. They drove by again, and Davis said to stop the car. Davis and Nguyen got out and began shooting into the house, he said.
Nguyen "was by the hood of the car shooting over the car and Dondre Davis was by the trunk," Walls said Friday.
Walls also said Harper, who was seated behind him, had a handgun, but he's not sure if Harper fired it.
Walls already has pleaded to second-degree murder and acknowledged he is hoping to receive some consideration when he is sentenced. He also said he is worried about what might happen to him or his family as a result of his testimony.
"In your gang world, on the street, how is it viewed for someone like you to be helping the police?" Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger asked.
"Not good," Walls said
"You can get hurt doing that?"
Also Friday, St. Petersburg Detective Gary Gibson explained that during his investigation he tracked down two assault rifles, which were displayed in the courtroom.
Upcoming testimony is expected to confirm that one of the weapons was used in the April 2009 shooting and one was not.
Harper's sister, Lecia Simmons, testified that she helped move two long guns out of their apartment just after the shooting, adding that after Harper was arrested, she spoke on the phone with both Davis and Walls. She said neither of them admitted involvement, but both were very interested in whether Harper had started talking to police.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.