NEW PORT RICHEY — Kellie Zorka was out celebrating her new life. Once a dancer in a strip club, she was now a new mom and had earned her certification to work as a nurse's aid.
On Feb. 24, 2008, she and a friend went to Diamonds Gentlemen's Club on State Road 54 to see old friends. She was showing off pictures of her son, Donovan.
"She was beaming. She was glowing," Greg Stratton, the DJ that night, said in court Tuesday.
About 1 a.m., a group of men came in and started making trouble with some of the women working there. One of the men said something inappropriate to Zorka. She brushed it off.
But after closing time at 2 a.m., when everyone spilled into the parking lot, the trouble started up again.
Arguing turned to punching, and someone pulled a gun and began firing. Zorka was struck in the head. The Spring Hill woman died several days later. Her friend, Anthony Monti, was hit in the left arm. A bouncer at the club narrowly dodged a bullet that flew near his ear.
Authorities interviewed dozens of witnesses who pointed to Bryan Gregory Heater as the shooter. His trial on charges of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder started Tuesday morning. He faces life in prison if convicted as charged.
"The defendant, in a cold and calculated fashion, put an end to Ms. Zorka's life," Assistant State Attorney Chris Jensen told jurors.
The case is a complicated he-said-she-said one, with numerous witnesses describing a melee in the wee hours after many people had been drinking. Few in the crowd knew each other.
Scott Andringa, Heater's attorney, said the case is fraught with reasonable doubt and that Heater did not shoot the gun.
Andringa pinned the blame on Rolston Drummond, Heater's friend, who was also charged in the case for punching Monti. Drummond pleaded guilty last year to aggravated assault and felony battery charges and is serving a four-year prison sentence.
But the first few state witnesses were adamant that Heater fired the fatal shot.
Alex Wilson, the bouncer, testified that he ran outside when he heard someone yell "Fight!" from the parking lot.
He saw a man, whom he later identified as Heater, holding an Uzi-type gun.
The man fired a couple of shots into the air, Wilson said. The next shot whizzed past Wilson's head.
"It felt like it grazed my ear. It didn't," he said. "I could feel the heat and the waves when it went past my head."
The next shot hit Anthony Monti in the arm.
Zorka, meanwhile, was fighting with another man. Wilson said he saw her on the ground, getting kicked. Then Heater turned to her, he said.
"The shooter stepped forward, staring straight at her, leaned forward, aimed the gun and fired," Wilson said, choking up.
Stratton, the DJ, was standing nearby.
"He (Heater) looks up at me, looks at Alex, smiles," Stratton said. Then Heater walked to his car and left.
Andringa pointed to some discrepancies in the testimony. In a deposition, Stratton said he couldn't remember some facial characteristics of the shooter, such as whether he had facial hair.
On Tuesday though, he seemed certain.
"I remembered the man's face, the eyes, the smile," Stratton said. "The way he looked is still burned into my memory to this day."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.