TAMPA — The house on W Van Buren Drive was a not-so-secret illicit emporium. Neighbors knew it as a place they could get tattooed, or choose from dozens of designer watches, or buy high-grade marijuana and cocaine.
Its notorious reputation brought two drug customers to the doorstep at 5 a.m. on June 5, 2011. When they knocked, a 16-year-old girl, home that night with just her 13-year-old brother, answered.
"Who is it?"
"It's me," one of the men answered.
In that moment, everything changed. A drug purchase became a home invasion. One of the men pulled a gun and told the other, "I'm going to rob them."
When the girl, Kiara Brito, opened the door, the man opened fire on her and her brother, Jeremi, shooting both in the head.
Such was the brutal scenario the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office described Thursday in hundreds of pages of previously undisclosed witness interviews and other documents that describe the killing of two children.
Among the new disclosures — a neighbor who heard shots engaged in a furious gun battle with one of the men, then later threw his gun off the Gandy Bridge. The would-be hero was a convicted felon who feared the cops would arrest him, but he gave a tag number to detectives that led to the arrests.
Two suspects — youth football buddies Tavari Grant and Charles Waits, now both 20 — are each charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Waits claims that Grant was the one who pulled the gun and started shooting. Grant says he knows nothing about the killings.
The evidence released Thursday describes more than murder. It portrays children living bizarrely in a world of drugs. The girl ran her own tattoo business and sold marijuana. She had been hanging out at Tabu Ultra Lounge in Ybor City until 2:30 a.m. on the morning she died. Her younger brother kept a stash of marijuana in his room and drove his mother's BMW.
Neighbors said the mother, Judy Brito, 32, supported the family with drug sales. She was studying criminal justice at Hillsborough Community College. She was at the beach in Pinellas County with her boyfriend when her children were killed.
Brito doesn't face any charges. Her attorney, Ricky Martinez, said Thursday that she doesn't refute any of the evidence.
"She lives with her guilt. She's forever remorseful. She has paid the ultimate price."
According to the evidence, Brito had called her son at 4:30 that morning while he was sleeping at a friend's house and told him to go home so his sister wouldn't be alone. The 13-year-old obediently got in his mother's BMW and drove back to 3021 W Van Buren Drive, near MacDill Air Force Base.
At the same time, investigators say, Grant and Waits were on their way to the Brito house after meeting up at a nightclub. They say Waits had told Grant he knew where they could get marijuana.
Minutes after their arrival, neighbors heard gunshots. One neighbor, Jemel Allen, 34, saw a man with a backpack run from the house toward MacDill Avenue. He saw another man with a pistol getting into a silver Impala. He grabbed a pistol and followed in his own car. When he caught up with the Impala, the man with the backpack was getting in. Allen got a tag number.
But he said the driver noticed him. The two shot at each other, missing one another but hitting a school bus. Allen said he emptied his gun.
Allen then headed back to the house on Van Buren. He gave detectives the tag number, but at first said nothing about the gun battle. Detectives later searched the waters below the Gandy Bridge where he said he dumped his weapon, but they never found it.
The tag led detectives to the car's owner: Waits' mother, Jeanette Marie Brooks of Riverview. They found blood drops in her driveway.
Brooks said her son told her he fled the porch when Grant started shooting. According to detectives, Grant stayed behind to loot the house of drugs and jewelry, including Kiara's designer watches and her gold ring, then he ran, catching up with Waits in time for the gun battle with neighbor Allen.
Grant — who wears tattoos of a dollar sign and a skull on his face — denied even being at the house. In an interview with detectives, he said Waits confessed to the crime and gave him three Michael Kors watches to "hold."
That was how he explained Kiara's watches found at his house. Detectives say Grant also had the girl's Louis Vuitton purse and had pawned her ring for $30. The ring was inscribed "Kiara."
At Tampa General Hospital, where the two children were taken, Judy Brito admitted to detectives her daughter had recently purchased marijuana and 70 Michael Kors watches. She said they'd find a half-pound of marijuana in Kiara's dresser. When detectives searched the house, they said they also found cocaine and $1,000 in cash in Brito's dresser.
Kiara had dated J.J. Hubbard, 18, a star football player at Robinson High School. A detective's report said the boy's mother, Lisa Williams, had said she feared for her son.
"She knew it was only a matter of time until something serious happened at the Brito residence."
John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]