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Trial begins in shooting at St. Petersburg's Citrus Grove Apartments

LARGO — A 15-year-old girl peeked through the blinds of a second-floor apartment after hearing a gunshot in the middle of the night.

Eventually, Tonecia Williams testified on Wednesday, she saw a man fire a black handgun into the air. Then he aimed at another man and fired again, she said.

And this, prosecutors said, is how Phillip J. Peterson shot and killed Jimmy Lee Adams, also known as "Tank," at the Citrus Grove Apartments in St. Petersburg in August 2007.

"She saw him pull the trigger and shoot at Tank," Assistant State Attorney Kristi Aussner told the jury.

This week Peterson, 24, is on trial on a second-degree murder charge. It's the third murder case in a month in which Citrus Grove — also known by its former name, Bethel Heights — has figured in.

Last month, three associates of a gang known as the "Bethel Heights Boys" were convicted in a drive-by shooting that killed 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton in 2009. One of the assault rifles used in that murder was found in the apartment complex at 731 15th St. S.

Also in recent weeks, hearings have been conducted in the case of Nicholas Lindsey, the 16-year-old accused of shooting and killing St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford. Lindsey lived in the complex.

But this week's trial is the only one of those three in which someone got killed at the apartment complex itself.

Prosecutors said the evidence would show Peterson shot and killed Adams. But defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand said his client was a victim of mistaken identity.

"Mr. Peterson is falsely accused of the murder in this case, and I'm asking you to keep an open mind as you listen to Tonecia Williams," Brunvand said.

Williams, now 19, said she lived in her mother's second floor apartment when she heard loud shouting in the middle of the night.

She peeked through the blinds, and then went back to bed. But then she heard a gunshot. She got up again. And this time, she saw a man she identified as Peterson holding a gun in the air and firing. And later, she said, he pointed the gun at Adams.

"That's when Phil shot at him," she said.

She said Peterson and Adams were arguing, and at one point Peterson said, "he owes me, he owes me," and Adams called out "I'm going to pay you, I'm going to pay you." A cousin of Peterson's tried to intervene, but eventually backed off, she said.

After Adams was shot, he clutched himself and ran away.

Osheka Youngblood was driving nearby when she saw a man later identified as Adams stagger into the street. He seemed to need help, so she circled back.

"He kept saying 'I was shot, I was shot, can I get in your car?' " Youngblood said.

Youngblood, who was pregnant at the time, dialed 911.

An autopsy showed Adams was shot in the back, with the bullet passing through his body, prosecutors said. He was 34.

The trial resumes today.

Times Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampbay.com (727) 893-8232

Trial begins in shooting at St. Petersburg's Citrus Grove Apartments 12/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2011 11:53am]

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