Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Details emerge about South Tampa teens' slayings

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]

Details emerge about South Tampa teens' slayings 09/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102