Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Opening statements begin in trial of men accused of killing 8-year-old St. Petersburg girl

Times Staff Writer

LARGO — On a night of revenge between warring neighborhood gangs, two men pointed assault rifles at a small house with a sleeping 8-year-old girl inside and "the shots just kept coming," a prosecutor said Wednesday.

The men fired their AR-15s more than 50 times until "the house was filled with smoke." Then a woman inside "watched her 8-year-old niece collapse and die right in front of her."

That was how Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was killed on April 5, 2009, Assistant State Attorney Doneene Dresback Loar told the jury.

And because of it, three men should be found guilty of first-degree murder for "shooting not once, not twice, but 56 times into a small home occupied by many people," the prosecutor said.

After more than two and a half years since the murder and nearly three days of jury selection, attorneys started trial proceedings Wednesday evening for a crime that outraged St. Petersburg.

The shooting sparked an enormous outcry because an 8-year-old girl, awakened from sleep in her home, was killed for no apparent reason. The aunt who adopted her, Shenita Williams, said she has worked to forgive the men. She is also attending the trial to gain a sense of closure.

After Loar delivered a short opening statement, attorneys for two of the three defendants — Dondre Davis and Duong Dai Nguyen — said they would reserve the right to give their opening statements later.

Only one defense attorney spoke to the jury Wednesday. Keith Hammond told jurors that his client, Stephen Cortez Harper, did not pull a trigger that night. All three defendants are being tried together for the girl's murder and all three face up to life in prison if convicted.

The attorney said Harper was in a car filled with four men, and that they were driving through St. Petersburg looking for a rival named Markeath "Monster" Fielder, who had antagonized the others earlier in the evening.

The plan, he said, was just to look for him. The men drove around the block of the house where Paris lived, and didn't see Fielder.

But then, Hammond said, Davis and Nguyen veered from the plan. They simply jumped out in front of Paris' house and started shooting.

"He's sitting in the back seat of the car, doesn't even have a gun on him," Hammond said of his client. He urged jurors to find Harper not guilty.

Loar set the scene for the events leading up to the killing. She said that on the night of April 4, 2009, several people congregated outside the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg after a dance, and people from rival groups faced off — the Bethel Heights Boys, based at Citrus Grove Apartments off 16th Street S, and a group from the Harbordale neighborhood called 8-Hype. "These neighborhood gangs, they don't like each other," she said.

After one man associated with the Harbordale group fired a gun in the direction of the Bethel Heights group, "The Bethel Heights guys were disrespected. They gathered into two vehicles and they went looking," Loar said.

They were looking for Fielder, the man who reportedly shot in their direction. So they drove into the Harbordale neighborhood, where one of the men shot into a group of people, striking one person.

And later, in the early morning hours of April 5, they drove to Paris' house. There were a total of nine people inside. That's where the shooting erupted.

The fourth man charged in the shooting, Mario Lewis Walls, drove the car to Paris' house. He has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Loar said Walls will testify against the others.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at or (727) 893-8232.

Opening statements begin in trial of men accused of killing 8-year-old St. Petersburg girl 11/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 9:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater police fatally shoot suicidal man after threat at hotel

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Police fatally shot a armed suicidal man who threatened officers at a hotel early Thursday morning.

  2. White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida tonight and the school is on high alert for tensions. [Associated Press]
  3. Bowen: Park land deal raises Penny for Pasco questions


    The Penny for Pasco is unambiguous.

    At least it is supposed to be.

    There was no equivocating in 2004 when Penny for Pasco supporters detailed how the sales tax proceeds would be spent: schools, transportation, public safety and environmental lands. No money for parks. No money for recreation.

    Pasco County is considering a loan from its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Mangement Program to buy land for a park in the Villages of Pasadena Hills in east-central Pasco. Shown here is the Jumping Gully Preserve in Spring Hil, acquired by ELAMP in 2009 and 2011.
[Douglas R. Clifford, Times]
  4. Another Tampa Bay agency loses tax credits worth millions in dispute over application error


    LARGO — Another Tampa Bay housing agency has lost out on a multi-million dollar tax credit award because of problems with its application.

    A duplex in Rainbow Village, a public housing complex in Largo. The Pinellas County Housing Authority is planning to build new affordable-housing in the complex but was recently disqualified from a state tax credit award because of an issue with its application.
  5. Live blog: Many unknowns as Richard Spencer speaks in Gainesville today


    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Florida Highway Patrol cruisers jammed the parking lot Wednesday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville, part of a big show of force by law enforcement ahead of Thursday's appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer. [KATHRYN VARN | Times]