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Fourth man arrested in connection with killing of Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, 8

ST. PETERSBURG — A fourth man has been charged in the murder of Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, the 8-year-old girl killed in her home nearly two years ago when gunmen riddled it with bullets.

Authorities arrested Duong Dai Nguyen, 21, on a charge of first-degree murder Tuesday and booked him into the Pinellas County Jail.

Police say Nguyen was one of two shooters who blasted more than 50 rounds of semiautomatic gunfire into Paris' house, 771 Preston Ave. S, on April 5, 2009.

The men were retaliating against a rival gang member, court records state.

Paris was killed when one of those bullets hit her in the back.

Soon after the gang-related crime, which sparked outrage in the city, police had captured four young men: Stephen Cortez Harper, Dondre James Davis, Mario Lewis Walls and Nguyen.

Nguyen was the only one not immediately charged in Paris' death. Police acknowledged he was a suspect, but said they didn't have enough information at the time to bring charges.

They got that evidence this month after Walls, 20, pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge and agreed to testify against others in the case.

"We've never stopped that investigation. … The big change was having Mario Walls being added to the witness list," said Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger.

Paris' family was pleased by the arrest.

"We're very glad to hear he's been captured. We are ecstatic," said cousin LaShawn Crawford.

According to court records, Walls told authorities he and Nguyen were friends. That night, he and the other men drove to Paris' house in a red Ford Focus. They were looking to retaliate against a man they believed was inside the house, which Paris shared with her aunt.

Walls drove the car, with Nguyen in the passenger seat, records state.

"Mario Walls was told to stop in front of the residence at which time Duong Nguyen and Deondre Davis exited the Focus and shot numerous times at the house," court records state. "Once Duong Nguyen and Deondre Davis stopped shooting, Mario Walls drove the group back to the Citrus Grove Apartments and the guns were unloaded."

Shell casings at the scene showed there was gunfire from two AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.

In his statement, Walls said Harper and Davis, who is scheduled to go to trial in April, were the ones who put the guns into the car. Ripplinger said even though Harper was not the shooter, the fact that he loaded the guns into the car makes him a principal to murder, he said.

"It totally makes him responsible under the principal statute," he said. "If you weren't one of the individuals shooting an AR-15, you're still responsible for them shooting AR-15s under the law."

Nguyen's criminal record started when he was 15. Authorities say he is a member of Asian Pride, a known criminal gang. He has been in prison since May, after he was sentenced to two years for a 2008 burglary case.

The street has since been renamed Paris Avenue.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Fourth man arrested in connection with killing of Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, 8 01/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 9:57pm]
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