Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Friend, mother of slain South Tampa teens testify in murder trial

TAMPA — A few weeks before police say Charles Waits robbed — and possibly killed — two South Tampa teens, he met one of them about getting a tattoo.

Kiara Brito, 16, was known as a talented tattoo artist. Waits admired one on his longtime friend Alexis Jackson. So in May 2011, Alexis and her mother took Waits to Brito's house on Van Buren Drive.

Waits didn't get a tattoo that day, but the pair talked about payment, Jackson testified at Waits' murder trial, which continued Wednesday.

Police say Waits returned early June 5, 2011, to rob the teens. He and friend Tavari Grant stole Michael Kors watches, a purse, perfume and jewelry, they say.

And they left the two teens dying in the living room, police say, both shot in the head.

Alexis Jackson, then 16, heard the news later that morning. Kiara was her friend. She was upset and told her mother — Lisa Hammock — who drove to the scene.

In sight of the crime scene, Hammock called Waits. Because he had met Kiara, Hammock figured that Waits, then 19, would want to know about her murder.

"They don't think it was me, do they?" Hammock remembers Waits asking.

"No," she replied.

Waits said his prayers went out to the family and he was sorry.

"And that was it," Hammock testified Wednesday morning.

The slain teens' mother testified in the afternoon. The prosecution needed Judy Brito to identify the items recovered at Grant's house as belonging to her and her daughter, Kiara.

She needed to hold her composure. The judge had made it clear he would not allow for overt emotions that might influence the jury. So she wrinkled her forehead, forced a tight smile and answered the prosecutor's questions.

Yes, the ring was Kiara's. The watches were Judy Brito's — the perfume, too.

The prosecution is building a case that Waits robbed the Britos with Grant — and not with a man named "Rocco" whom Waits told detectives about.

Waits' defense is that he was forced at gunpoint by Rocco to participate in the robbery. Because of that, his attorney says, Waits should be found not guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Kiara and her 13-year-old brother, Jeremi Brito.

The defense did not question Judy Brito. She was on the stand about 15 minutes. When she finished, she walked at a quick clip, then jogged, toward the door at the back of the courtroom.

The door hadn't closed when she let out a gut-wrenching sob.

Wednesday wrapped up with testimony from Khayri McCray, a close friend of Waits who is currently serving 20 years in prison for attempted murder. (McCray fired a gun into a Riverview graduation party crowd in 2010.)

McCray did not want to testify against Waits. But he had been called because he was the one who told police the murder weapon — a distinctive pearl-handled gun — was hidden at an abandoned home in Progress Village.

"Had you seen it before?" Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty asked McCray, showing him a photograph of the gun.

He sighed. He shook his head.

"Sir, you had seen this firearm before, is that correct?" she pressed.

Finally: "How many times had you seen Charles Waits with that gun?" she asked

"Once, twice," he answered.

"To be clear for the jury: You have seen this particular firearm in the possession of the defendant, Charles Waits," the prosecutor said.

"Yes," he replied.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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