LARGO — Witnesses recalled screaming, bullets, gun smoke and blood from the night 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was killed, but testimony Thursday also focused on the buildup to the shooting.
It was neighborhood versus neighborhood, gang versus gang, gun versus gun. And ultimately, a firestorm of more than 50 bullets from assault rifles, one of which killed the little girl.
But it all started with a dance.
On April 4, 2009, several people mingled outside the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, where a dance had been held. Two St. Petersburg groups with a long history of animosity faced off, according to witnesses. One group was the Bethel Heights Boys, from the Citrus Grove Apartments off 16th Street. Prosecutors have said the three defendants on trial are associated with this group — Dondre Davis, Stephen Cortez Harper and Duong Dai Nguyen.
The other group was 8-Hype, centered in the Harbordale neighborhood.
The two groups talked some trash to each other outside the dance. And one witness, Gregory Wright, who back then was a Bethel Heights Boy, said he remembers a man named Markeath "Monster" Fielder strutting between the two groups, with a hand thrust into his pocket, as though he had a gun. Wright said Fielder was from 8-Hype.
At some point outside of the Uhuru House, shots were fired, according to Wright and Paris' cousin, Richard Junior. Wright said he thought it was Fielder who fired in their direction, but he couldn't know for sure. Junior testified that he wasn't sure who fired the gun.
Prosecutors say the three defendants associated with Bethel Heights, plus one other man who already has pleaded guilty, shot up Paris' house to get back at Fielder — the man from outside the dance. A bullet hit the girl instead.
Wright testified that early on April 5, 2009, not too long after the incident outside the Uhuru House, he saw four of his Bethel Heights-associated friends — Davis, Harper, Nguyen and Mario Lewis Walls — go into the Citrus Grove Apartments near where Harper stayed.
They came out with two or three big guns, Wright said. The four piled into a red Ford Focus with a Tweety Bird sticker on it and drove away. Shortly after, he heard gunfire. Shortly after that, the four came back in the car and went back into the complex with the guns, Wright said.
Wright is 24, works at a meat market, and no longer lives in the Bethel Heights area. He is called "TV Head," a nickname he has had so long he doesn't remember why. He spoke slowly, often giving one-word answers to sentences, and stumbled over simple questions. He complained that an attorney was confusing him.
Because of his seeming confusion, Davis' attorney, Edward Panzica asked him: "You don't have a clear memory of anything that night do you?"
Wright stared, paused for a long time, and did not answer.
In other testimony, Paris' aunt Shenita Williams, who was raising the girl, said that when the shooting broke out, "I thought it was firecrackers."
Inside, "the house was smoking … everyone was screaming. I knew something was wrong."
She came out of her bedroom into a hallway, but "it was so much smoke, you couldn't see anything, you just heard the loud noise of the guns."
And then her niece passed her, dressed in her nightclothes, clutching a security blanket. "I saw her eyes go up and then she collapsed," Williams said.
A neighbor of Paris' family, Alyce Smith, heard the gunfire and rushed outside her house.
"I saw a red car," she said. She went into the house and soon started giving Paris CPR.
"I gave her two breaths and I started on the third breath," Smith said, "She said 'huuuu.' "
She cried as she described how Paris stopped breathing.
"There wasn't anything else I could do," she said.