“Is this your sister's blood?"
Ishia Washington, 21, stared at a projected photograph of her dead sibling, Iesha. Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Justin Diaz pointed to the hole a bullet left in Iesha's head two years ago. Behind dark bangs that hid half her face, Ishia's eyes welled.
"Yes, sir," she said.
Washington's eyewitness account of her sister's death anchored the prosecution's case on the first day of testimony in the second-degree murder trial of Tyrell Bragg, 23, of Tampa. Bragg is charged with fatally shooting Iesha Washington at a party in Riverview in 2011.
Taking the stand Tuesday, Ishia Washington described an overcrowded, alcohol-fueled gathering of young men and women at a union hall off U.S. 41 in Riverview. She recalled fistfights between feuding kids from adjacent Tampa neighborhoods.
And as she recounted the last minutes of Iesha's life — how she leaned out of a car screaming for her brother, then went limp — Ishia Washington learned one of the courtroom's many unwelcome lessons: Included in the cost of justice are answers to questions no person should be asked.
"Once your sister fell out of the car," asked Diaz, "did she get back up?"
In her opening statement Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman said the bullet that lodged in Iesha's head was intended for her brother, Darrell Hernandez, who had been in a brawl with Bragg outside the union hall.
Hernandez and the Washingtons are from Progress Village. Bragg is from Clair-Mel City. Young men and women from the two neighborhoods don't get along, and fights broke out when big contingents from both areas showed up at the party.
At one point Bragg stalked Hernandez, firing a handgun, Hindman said. Washington was leaning out the back window of a four-door Saturn when the bullet found her. She had been pleading with the car's driver to wait on her brother, according to Ishia Washington, who was sitting next to her.
It was less than two weeks after Iesha's 18th birthday.
"This case is about two neighborhoods and an 18-year-old girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Hindman said.
But prosecutors had a distance to go in proving their version of events as the trial began. The state's case rests on eyewitnesses' accounts of a chaotic scene where at least several people were firing guns. A 22-year-old Tampa man, Craig Thompson, was also fatally shot that night. A gun was found at Bragg's home, but it did not match the bullet that killed Washington. On Tuesday, Hernandez gave confusing testimony that left open the question of whether Bragg was near Washington when he allegedly opened fire.
"None of the physical evidence ties Tyrell Bragg to a gun that committed the crime he's accused of," said his defense lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Beardsley.
Testimony in the case continues today. The trial is expected to conclude this week.
Ishia Washington said she was positive she had seen Bragg advancing toward their car, holding a gun, his arm extended. She said she heard the shots at the moment Iesha fell. And asked by prosecutors what she saw next when she looked at her sister, Ishia had an answer.
"I seen blood."
Peter Jamison can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.