TAMPA — Prosecutors said the 15-year-old gang member bragged about the slaying.
A day after it happened, Esteban Rivera and his buddies bought a newspaper and laughed that police had the details wrong, Assistant State Attorney Sidney Harmon told a Hillsborough County jury on Tuesday.
"He could barely contain himself," Harmon said in opening statements.
This week, prosecutors plan to call witnesses to testify that Rivera took credit for participating in a drive-by shooting that left 19-year-old Andre Coachman dead with a single gunshot to the head.
Information from tipsters led to first-degree murder charges against Rivera, now 17, and LaBronx Bailey, 19. Harmon said they both fired pistols from the bed of a pickup truck about 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2007, as Coachman and two other men walked to the store from an East Tampa home.
Prosecutors said Bailey wanted to "get those 32nd Street Boys" because they had beaten up his cousin in state prison. He's expected to stand trial later this year.
Tra Evan Lineberger, 17, a third shooter who fired a shotgun from inside the truck, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 28-year prison sentence. He's expected to testify against Rivera.
Prosecutors concede they don't know whether the fatal shot came from Rivera, who fired a 9mm pistol, or Bailey, who used a .357 Magnum.
"We will never know who shot the bullet that killed Andre Coachman," Harmon said, telling jurors that forensic tests couldn't distinguish between the guns used by Rivera and Bailey.
Defense attorney Robert Fraser highlighted that fact for jurors, saying the state's case lacks physical evidence.
"What you're going to be given here is a steady diet of verbal accounts," Fraser said, noting that some of it may not match up.
There won't be any evidence that the teens intended to kill anyone that night, Fraser said. Their plan was simply to scare Rivera and the others by firing over their heads, not at them, Fraser said.
But someone veered from that plan and aimed at the victims.
"Our nominee for that is LaBronx Bailey," Fraser said. "He is the shooter that killed Mr. Coachman."
He was the one with a motive and the one directing the driver where to go, Fraser said.
"What the evidence will prove in this case is that all these individuals are principles and therefore guilty of first-degree murder," Harmon said.
Rivera lived in Valrico and Bailey lived in Riverview, where prosecutors said the two hung out at an apartment complex and bragged about the shooting in the days and weeks after it occurred.
Kevin Graham can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.