ST. PETERSBURG — One of the men charged in the shooting of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against others in the case.
Mario Lewis Walls, 20, pleaded guilty and has agreed to testify against other defendants. Two others — Dondre Davis and Stephen Cortez Harper — have been charged in the case, but the investigation is continuing.
Paris was gunned down in her own home in April 2009 and her killing sparked outrage throughout St. Petersburg. The killers shot more than 50 rounds into her house at 771 Preston Ave. S using assault rifles, apparently to get back at someone else in the house who belonged to a rival gang or neighborhood group. The street has since been renamed Paris Avenue.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger said Walls' plea and agreement to cooperate is an important step.
"We thought it was important to have someone who could give us detailed testimony who was in the street at the time of the shooting," Ripplinger said.
Attorney Lane Lastinger said Walls was the driver of the car and did not fire a gun, but pleaded guilty "to take responsibility for his involvement in the crime." Walls made an "open plea" last month, meaning Walls has no guarantee of how much time he will serve in prison.
He faces a maximum sentence of life, but it's possible that prosecutors could recommend a lighter sentence if he testifies as promised. If Walls had been convicted of first-degree murder, the only possible sentences would have been death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Lastinger said Walls "hopes his cooperation will allow him to show atonement for his wrongs."
Davis is set to go on trial in April, which would be the first trial in connection with the case.
Asked about the overall investigation, St. Petersburg police Maj. Mike Kovacsev said "the ultimate goal would be to arrest the fourth individual."
Police have previously said there is another suspect, but no one has been formally charged.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.