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Driver gives account of shooting that killed St. Petersburg 8-year-old girl

This is the scene of the drive-by shooting at 771 Preston Ave. S around the time Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was slain in 2009.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times (2009)

This is the scene of the drive-by shooting at 771 Preston Ave. S around the time Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was slain in 2009.

ST. PETERSBURG — On the night 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was killed, four men drove down Preston Avenue in a red Ford Focus, with two assault rifles in the car, looking for a man they knew only as "Monster."

They were angry because Monster had shot in their direction. They decided Monster needed to die.

With an 18-year-old named Mario Walls at the wheel, they drove around the block, but couldn't find Monster.

And then, Walls said in a statement recently entered in the court file, one of the passengers named Dondre Davis decided it was time to act.

"And they were just, like f - - - it, so Dondre Davis and (Duong) Nguyen got out of the car and just start shooting up the house, and then a whole bunch — a whole bunch of shots," Walls said.

And that is how Paris died, inside her house in the hail of 50 gunshots that followed.

Walls gave his account last month in a formal interview with lawyers called a deposition. The transcript recently was entered into court records.

It provides the only first-person account made public of what happened on the night when Paris was killed, which set off a wave of community outrage about violence in St. Petersburg.

Walls, now 20, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is cooperating with prosecutors. Walls' statement is likely to become a centerpiece in the cases against at least some of the other three men.

In his deposition, Walls was asked to set the scene by describing the trash talking and fighting that had occurred between two groups, the Bethel Heights Boys, based in the Citrus Grove Apartments in the Bethel Heights neighborhood, and 8-Hype, a group based closer to Preston Avenue, where Paris was killed.

First, Walls said, weeks before the shooting, there was a fist-fight between some of the Bethel Heights Boys and 8-Hype. It began because Monster — whom police later identified as Markeath Fielder — was harassing a friend of Walls' whom he referred to only as "TV Head."

And then in April, the night before the shooting, Walls and his friends Nguyen, Davis, Stephen Harper and some others went to the Uhuru House on 18th Avenue S for a party or dance. He had been friends for more than a decade with Harper and Davis, but Nguyen was a relatively new friend, he said.

Across the street, they spotted Monster. He and his friends were shouting insults, Walls said.

"So all of the sudden the dude, Monster, pulled out his gun," Walls said. "He just start shooting towards our way, bullets in the ground, we running back towards our cars, like, get some cover."

He and his friends got back to their cars, and decided they needed to go find Monster. So they went to a house a few blocks away from Preston Avenue "where we thought they was going."

Harper said he knew where one of the other guys lived, so the group drove by and saw six or seven of the other guys in the yard.

"Dondre Davis rolled down the window and just started shooting a couple rounds at the guys, like, in front of the house. Then we leave there." Davis shot with a .45-caliber handgun, Walls said.

This was not the shooting that killed the girl. In this incident, there is no indication anyone was hit. After this, the men went back to the Bethel Heights neighborhood. Instead of calming down, they grew angrier.

"Everybody, like, mad now and saying they could have killed us when they were shooting at us," referring to the incident at the Uhuru house, Walls said in his deposition. So they got guns from Harper's apartment in Citrus Grove Apartments, Walls said.

Harper said he knew where Monster lived. The house he directed them to was at 771 Preston Ave., where Paris lived with family members. Walls was driving.

They were looking for Monster, and wanted to kill him, Walls said. The four in the car were saying "If we see this dude, we're going to get him, you know, he done f - - - - - up."

This plan made sense to Walls, he said.

"Well, shoot, the guy tried to kill us, so I felt like it was the best thing to do," he told lawyers later.

The four didn't see anyone outside the house, so they drove around the block, and still didn't see anyone.

"Dondre Davis just said, "F - - - this, said like — come on," and then … "that's when them two got out of the car." The two were Davis and Nguyen.

Davis started shooting over the hood of the red Ford Focus they had been driving, and Nguyen was shooting over the trunk, Walls said. He said, "I'm just like, ducking down because it was so loud."

The idea was just to shoot up the house, Walls said.

As they left, he said, they still didn't know the bullets hit anyone. They drove the car to an abandoned house and began wiping it down, presumably to destroy fingerprints. The car belonged to a friend of Harper's, Walls said.

Davis, 21, Harper, 20, and Nguyen, 21, are scheduled to go on trial in August on charges of being principals to first-degree murder. Walls has not yet been sentenced.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

Driver gives account of shooting that killed St. Petersburg 8-year-old girl 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 11:03pm]

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