Attorney: Man questioned by Tampa police about teens' shooting 'could be a witness'

TAMPA — A young man questioned by police in the shooting deaths of two South Tampa teenage siblings is a potential witness and not the shooting suspect, his attorney said Tuesday.

Charles Stephan Waits, 19, was identified by police as someone who may have information about the Sunday morning shooting. He was questioned about the crime at length, then booked on drug charges late Monday at the Hillsborough County jail.

"He could be a witness at this point," said Tampa lawyer Tav Gomez, who is representing him. "I truthfully don't believe they think he's the shooter."

Kiara Brito, 16, and Jeremi Brito, 13, were home alone early Sunday when they were shot. They lived with their mother, Judy, at 3021 W Van Buren Drive, north of MacDill Air Force Base.

Police will not say where Judy Brito was that night but said she has been cooperative.

Nor have authorities revealed what prompted them to zero in on Waits.

Police searched his South Tampa home Sunday evening and found cocaine, prosecutors said. But they didn't arrest him that night.

On Monday afternoon, police announced they wanted to talk to Waits about the deaths of Kiara and Jeremi. By that time, police had a signed warrant for Waits' arrest on a cocaine possession charge. He turned himself in Monday evening.

Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis reiterated Tuesday that police have never called Waits a suspect in the shooting.

However, she declined to elaborate on what detectives believe Waits might have seen or done.

"It's still a very active and open investigation," she said. "We're still trying to figure out exactly what happened."

Gomez said he is in the dark about why police focused on his client since police have not yet filed a search warrant affidavit, a signed court document that explains the legal reasons investigators have for a search.

He declined to describe Waits' possible connection to the case or how he knew the Brito family.

"At this point, we unfortunately can't make any comment," he said.

He called the police's cocaine possession accusation "weak" because Waits also lives with his mother and siblings. "Anybody could have put that there," he said.

Prosecutors said the police search of Waits' home also uncovered a rifle that may be connected to an unrelated case handled by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

That case, said Gomez, may show that the rifle had been stolen. He emphasized, however, authorities have not implicated his client in that case.

Neighbors say Waits, his mother and siblings moved into a white, ranch-style home on Belcher Drive in South Tampa about two to three months ago.

Several said they never noticed anything odd until police descended Sunday evening.

Waits' mother, Jeanette Brooks, seemed distraught and didn't appear to know what was going on, neighbors said. On Tuesday, she declined comment.

A judge denied bail Tuesday for Waits because the new drug charges came while he was awaiting trial on other drug charges levied after a May 11 traffic stop.

The Brito siblings had been out late and returned home a short time before gunshots were heard before 6 a.m. Sunday.

The children's father, Eddie Brito of Lowell, Mass., flew to Florida after the shootings.

"I was going crazy when I found out about it," Eddie Brito told the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.

At the home Tuesday, teens continued leaving candles and balloons and messages. A man who said his son knew the teens dropped to his knees in the front yard and prayed.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Ileana Morales contributed to this report. Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374. Reach Jessica Vander Velde at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Attorney: Man questioned by Tampa police about teens' shooting 'could be a witness' 06/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 11:37pm]

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