Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Emotion erupts during Tampa murder trial

TAMPA — Moments after hearing a 911 tape Tuesday of his younger brother screaming from a gunshot to the heart, Joshua Stewart lunged at the man accused of firing the fatal bullet.

In an instant, jurors' attention turned from the man on trial for first-degree murder to the one grieving his lost sibling.

"Come here," Stewart sobbed from the front row of the courtroom gallery. "I'm 20 feet away from him. My brother's dead, you piece of s---."

He never touched Timothy Blackwelder, the defendant. Bailiffs swarmed Stewart in seconds and dragged him from the courtroom.

His mother hurried after him in tears as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Foster hastily ordered jurors out a back door.

Stewart could still be heard crying in the hallway when Assistant Public Defender Kenneth Littman sprang to his feet and asked for a mistrial.

Foster instead adjourned the proceedings to allow everyone to regroup.

The outburst caught even veteran attorneys off guard.

"I've been doing this 30 years, and I've never seen that before," Littman said.

Until about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, the trial had been routine.

Attorneys laid out their cases in the morning. A prosecutor said Blackwelder, 25, tried to kick in the door of the home where George Anthony Stewart Jr., 24, and his wife, Brittani Key Stewart, were with their toddler twin daughters last year.

Blackwelder fired one shot into Stewart's chest with a gun that belonged to his mother's boyfriend, Assistant State Attorney Jalal Harb said. He fled to Georgia with Stewart's wife in her van.

Littman said his client was not the shooter and only a "spectator" to the crime. He didn't say who he thought killed Stewart.

He asked jurors to scrutinize the testimony of Brittani Stewart, who married her husband in February 2007, but began a sexual relationship with Blackwelder soon after. She continued that relationship and indicated plans to start a new life with Blackwelder in another state even after obtaining a restraining order against him, the defense attorney said.

"While Brittani Key certainly cared for her husband, George Stewart, she loved Mr. Blackwelder," Littman said.

Before the prosecution played the 911 tape, the judge warned Stewart's family members that they might not want to hear its dramatic contents.

They stayed put.

George Stewart had placed his first call to authorities Dec. 7 at 3:42 p.m. He sounded calm as he reported that Blackwelder was violating the restraining order by standing on the back porch of the home where Stewart's wife had been living.

On Tuesday, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the call was not designated as top priority at that point.

Things became more urgent when Stewart called back at 3:47 p.m. He said Blackwelder had just stolen his wife's van. While Stewart was still on the phone, Blackwelder returned.

Stewart said he was going to beat up Blackwelder, but the 911 operator told him to stay inside.

"He's threatening," Stewart said.

"We've got an officer on the way," the operator said.

"He better not step one foot in this house," Stewart said.

The operator urged him to be patient. "Don't do anything stupid," she said.

"Now he's got a gun pointing at me!" Stewart said.

"Oh, my gosh," the operator gasped.

Stewart yelled twice more that Blackwelder had a gun. The operator asked if Blackwelder was inside or outside of the house and — bang — a gun fired. Stewart's agonizing screams followed.

"He just shot me!" Stewart said.

Jurors were cleared from the courtroom before hearing the tape end with his moans and labored breaths.

McElroy said officers arrived at the scene four minutes after the call was dispatched. Stewart was dead; the toddlers, unharmed.

Foster asked the 14 jurors individually whether the chaos would affect their ability to remain fair and impartial. He dismissed one woman from the panel, the only juror who said her opinion might be affected by what she had seen.

The defense will argue for a mistrial this morning. Foster seemed disinclined to grant the motion, leaving the issue vulnerable to appeal.

The judge refused outright Littman's request for Joshua Stewart to be held in contempt of court, but banned him from the rest of the trial.

Pamela Sansom, Joshua and George Stewart's mother, tried to make sense of her living son's actions.

"All I can tell you is he's hurting," she said. "He lost his only brother."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

Emotion erupts during Tampa murder trial 05/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 10:07am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Former Jabil executive's fate in hands of murder trial jury


    LARGO — For a second time, Patrick Evans' future is in the hands of a jury.

    Patrick Evans talks with Allison Miller, one of his three public defenders, before jury selection this w eek. Evans, a former Jabil executive charged with killing his estranged wife and her friend almost 10 years ago, is back in court for a second trial after his original death sentence conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  2. Hillsborough designates $17 million for Irma debris removal and repairs


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission voted Wednesday to spend $17 million from the county's Catastrophic Disaster Recovery Fund to remove debris left by Hurricane Irma and to fix damaged facilities.

  3. Five jump from burning boat near Gandy Bridge


    TAMPA — Five people jumped from a boat that caught fire near the Gandy Bridge Wednesday afternoon, 10News WTSP reported.

  4. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000


    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  5. HSN star Joy Mangano promotes new book: Inventing Joy


    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than 30 years, Joy Mangano knows a thing or two about promoting products. Now she's promoting herself.

    Inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano is releasing her first new book, Inventing Joy on Nov. 7. [TIERRA SMITH | Times]