TAMPA — Calling his actions "absolutely senseless," a judge sentenced Charles Waits to life in prison without parole Friday for the 2011 murders of South Tampa teenagers Kiara and Jeremi Brito.
Waits, 21, was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder last month in connection with the fatal shootings of 16-year-old Kiara and Jeremi, 13.
It was the only possible sentence under state law that could be imposed for the killings, but Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles drove home his view of the crime's severity by also handing down life terms for Waits' related robbery and burglary convictions.
"I will never get to plan my daughter's wedding. People look at me with pity. I hate in my heart, and I've never hated before," the slain children's 34-year-old mother, Judy Brito, told Waits during the hearing. "You crushed my heart. You killed my best friends."
She added, "I hope you die. You killed me when you took my children."
Waits, a sad-eyed young man who has grown a dark beard since his trial ended, stared at the table where he sat.
He turned down his chance to speak to the judge before he was sentenced.
His attorney, Octavio Gomez, said simply: "He didn't wish for this to happen."
It was the end of one chapter in the story of a troubling double-murder that remains, in important respects, unresolved.
Police found the teens shot to death at their home on June 5, 2011.
Their mother was in Treasure Island with her boyfriend the night of the murders. Police and court records indicate Kiara Brito sold marijuana from the family's home just north of MacDill Air Force Base, and the house's reputation as a drug emporium may have attracted the teens' killers.
Several days after Waits' conviction last month, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office announced it was dropping all charges against his co-defendant, Tavari Grant, saying only that it had "insufficient evidence" to proceed.
It was a stunning about-face: Just days earlier, while trying Waits, prosecutors had said Grant was also culpable in the murders. Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty said Grant helped plan the robbery and burglary that led to the Britos' deaths, and Waits testified in his defense that Grant fired the shots that killed the teens.
Police and prosecutors say the investigation into Waits' accomplices in the killings remains open.
Grant, a 21-year-old with skulls tattooed on his cheeks, is in prison for unrelated convictions on charges of attempted armed robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Judy Brito declined to comment after Friday's sentencing about the decision not to prosecute Grant, saying only that Waits' sentence had not brought an end to either the case or her grief. "It's never over," she said.
Peter Jamison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.