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Minor argument in St. Petersburg leads to murder trial for pair

Defendant Hector Pena, left, enters a courtroom at the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Complex on Tuesday. Pena is accused of firing the three shots that hit and killed 19-year-old Marquise Pennywell of St. Petersburg.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Defendant Hector Pena, left, enters a courtroom at the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Complex on Tuesday. Pena is accused of firing the three shots that hit and killed 19-year-old Marquise Pennywell of St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — Of the 341 gun crimes in St. Petersburg in 2009, the killing of Marquise Pennywell stands apart.

That's because it took so little to start the gunfire.

According to recent court testimony, Pennywell got shot because one man thought another man almost ran over his foot. And Pennywell wasn't even the driver.

"This is just incredible, just incredibly sad that somebody had to die over something so stupid," Assistant State Attorney Michael Marr said.

Pennywell's family members plan to be in court today for closing arguments in the trial of two men accused of second-degree murder in the case. They couldn't agree more with Marr's assessment.

"Over somebody's foot being run over? It just doesn't make sense," said sister Marissa Pennywell, 23. "It's the pride, it's the egos, it's all of that."

Brother Deven Pennywell, 20, said if the defendants had taken 30 seconds to think about their actions, shots might never have been fired. "Still to this day, it doesn't feel real," he said.

Pennywell, who was killed at age 19, graduated from Boca Ciega High School, completed a Job Corps program and was studying at Pinellas Technical Education Centers.

"Marquise was on the rise," his sister Marissa said. "One more semester and he would have been a certified plumber."

In September 2009, a man named Cortez White drove into the parking lot of Snax, at 1755 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S.

Dontavious Sparrow complained that White had almost run over his foot in the parking lot. White testified last week that it wasn't intentional, but he could tell Sparrow was upset about it.

Shortly after the incident, prosecutors say, Sparrow and his friend Hector William Pena got in a car and drove toward White, Pennywell and others standing outside the store. Pena is accused of firing a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun at the group, while Sparrow drove. Three shots hit Pennywell.

White was a friend of Pennywell's, and rushed to his side.

"I just grabbed him and I'm talking to him, saying, 'Stay awake bro,' " White told the jury last week. Pennywell said, "They hit me, they hit me."

Pena's attorney, Garry Potts, has said he intends to argue his client was not actually the shooter.

Pena and Sparrow have been charged with second-degree murder, and four counts of attempted second-degree murder — the latter charges because of bystanders around Pennywell.

Authorities have said Pena and Sparrow, who were from Naples and Fort Myers, did not previously know Pennywell. They were 18 at the time of the shooting and are 20 now. They face possible life sentences.

There was a sideline in the trial that jurors did not hear. One of the St. Petersburg detectives who spoke to Pena and obtained key information was Anthony Foster, who now is a criminal defendant himself, facing federal public corruption charges.

Prosecutors chose not to have Foster testify, so his legal troubles never came before the jury.

Pennywell was one of seven children, and the other six now bear memorial tattoos for Marquise, said his sister Marissa.

Dealing with the loss has not been easy, she said. "His funeral fell directly on my 21st birthday. It put me in a dark place."

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

Minor argument in St. Petersburg leads to murder trial for pair 10/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 11:14pm]

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