NEW PORT RICHEY — Derrick Harris paced in front of the crime scene tape, his head down, his face blank. It was Sept. 27, a Saturday, blazing hot as Harris and a dozen of his friends stood vigil on the parking lot of Trinity Family Church, a block from Ridgewood High School.
Harris, 22, told everyone that he got a call from a stranger who told him his brother, 18-year-old Anthony Granton, was dead and in a Dumpster on this lot. Harris said by the time he arrived, the police were already there and blocked off the scene. He was in agony, he said, wanting to know if it was true or not.
"They won't let me see," he said, softly. His friends stood by him, rubbing his back, hugging him, as they waited.
Harris said he loved his brother and was protective of him. A large crowd of gawkers gathered. Neighbors sat in their cars and along the grassy perimeter for hours, gossiping, wanting to know who was in the Dumpster and who killed him.
But, no one could have guessed how the plot would twist and that the grieving, slightly-built brother they stared at with pity was, according to authorities, the killer.
Harris was arrested at his home Thursday morning by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office on a charge of first-degree murder. He was held at the Land O'Lakes Jail without bail.
Detectives say that between that Friday night and Saturday afternoon, he shot his half-brother in the back of the head and tossed his body in the rusted-out Dumpster. They said a pool of blood was found in the 1993 white Honda Civic the two brothers shared and that the blood was matched to Granton.
At the scene that evening, a detective went over to the car and shouted for no one to touch it, and a deputy stood guard. Harris was then told to get in a detective's car and was questioned.
His friends thought they were breaking the news to him that it was his brother in the Dumpster and, when the car pulled out of the lot, they assumed a deputy was taking him home to help tell his mother. Later that night, they found out that Harris had been taken in for questioning. He sent a text message to a friend saying: "They think I did it."
"A lot of what he said didn't add up," said Doug Tobin, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.
He said that Harris gave detectives this account: That he had been at a gang party of the Valentine Bloods that Friday night and, while hiding behind a sport utility vehicle, he heard someone say a person was killed and put in a Dumpster somewhere for stealing rims. Then, just by chance, he decided to clean out his car — at that very Dumpster — that Saturday afternoon and happened upon his brother's body. Then he went to a 7-Eleven and called 911, posing as a person named David Williams, to report the death. He later told authorities he made that call.
If his story is to be believed — that he found his brother's body but didn't kill him — that still means he allowed his friends to stand there at the gut-wrenching crime scene, comforting and praying for him and Granton, all the while knowing his brother was dead.
The Sheriff's Office has not released a motive for the shooting. Three witnesses told detectives that they saw Harris with a handgun about 11 p.m. that Friday.
A manager at the Express Discount Food & Beverage shop in Port Richey, which is close to where the family lives, said that Alice Granton — the mother of the brothers — came in there Thursday morning.
"One son is buried and one is in jail," Rita Gandhi said Granton told her. "He didn't do it."
Kim McKenzie was one of the first people Harris called as he waited at the crime scene. Her children are friends with Harris and she acts like an adoptive mom to all of them. Her eldest daughter dated Harris. She said her middle child, 18-year-old Heather Ogden, said she was at a carnival with Harris that Friday night before the body was found.
Since Granton's death, McKenzie said Harris has worked with detectives and has been upset that they considered him a suspect. She said Harris was a pallbearer at his brother's funeral and that, when she drove him to the burial site for a visit, Harris sank to his knees on the dirt.
On Thursday, McKenzie said she believes Harris didn't do it. How could he? He's been in her home and a part of her children's lives. She feeds him and consoles him. She knows his mother. How could anyone be so wrong about a person? Her faith in people would crumble, she said and she paused.
Then she took a breath and pushed it out of her mind. "No," she said, exhaling. She couldn't allow herself to think that Harris did this. "No."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds and reporters Molly Moorhead and Camille Spencer contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.