Investigation turns up more evidence in Tampa robbery and slaying of Brito teens

TAMPA — The list of evidence against Tavari Grant shows how detectives plan to prove he was involved in the killing of two teens earlier this week.

Police said he had blood on a pair of Nike Air Force One sneakers. A witness saw Grant, 18, with two .32-caliber handguns. And items stolen from the home of the victims were found in Grant's home and identified by the children's mother.

There is more:

Detectives determined his cell phone was in the area of 3021 W Van Buren Drive during the shootings Sunday morning. A witness saw Grant with a gold ring with a diamond "K" that belonged to 16-year-old victim Kiara Brito. And authorities also recovered a piece of the jewelry pawned by Grant that came from the Brito home.

Tampa police charged the former high school football player with first-degree murder in the deaths of Kiara and her 13-year-old brother Jeremi Brito during a home invasion robbery.

As police continued the investigation Friday, more than 500 friends gathered at a church in their Port Tampa neighborhood to remember the slain teens.

Their mother, Judy Brito, was whisked into the First Baptist Church of Port Tampa on Friday afternoon wearing large dark sunglasses. She didn't speak. At the end, she was gone as suddenly as she had come.

Numerous questions remain.

The Police Department has still not revealed where Judy Brito was when the robbery took place. She has not spoken publicly. Police have not explained how bullets fired at a nearby location could relate to the children's deaths. And they won't reveal whether they have additional suspects or whether the shooting was drug-related.

"We still have a very active investigation with more charges pending," said Laura McElroy, a spokeswoman for the police. "Releasing more details could jeopardize that investigation."

Police said Grant went to the home of Kiara and Jeremi with Charles Stephan Waits, 19, just before 6 a.m. Sunday. Waits knew the children and got them to open the door, police said. Then, both teens were shot in the head. Kiara died at the scene. Jeremi was taken off of life support Monday and died at Tampa General Hospital.

Kiara spent her last night at Tabu, an Ybor City club, where she danced to Young A.J., one of her favorite artists.

Afterward, a friend drove Kiara and Ragan Jennings, 18, a former Robinson High basketball teammate, to McDonald's where Kiara ordered a Big Mac with extra sauce. A vegetarian, she gave Jennings the burger patties and ate the rest.

"We had so much fun that night," Jennings said. "We were happy, laughing."

Jennings was dropped off first but not before Kiara, still hungry, asked for her hamburger buns. The next morning, Jennings awoke to learn her friend was dead.

The pair had met playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball after Kiara's family moved to Port Tampa from Massachusetts. Both lived in the neighborhood, and Kiara, a talented artist, tattooed a butterfly, the name of Jennings' brother and the word "ambitious" on her friend.

Kiara was known around the neighborhood for her ink work. She had her own equipment and often tattooed friends at her home for cash at prices below what tattoo parlors charge. People hung around the house waiting for tattoos, said Benzel McKever, 18, who knew her since middle school.

Kiara loved the attention her work brought her, Jennings said, but soon tired of it because she was too busy with basketball, a job and Advanced Placement courses.

Adults, who saw her designs on friends' skin, often asked for her services. But the last few months, Jennings said, Kiara let those constant requests go straight to voice mail.

Everyone knew she made money from her tattoos. Her mother spoiled her and her brother, too, Jennings said. She always had new shoes, and some seemed jealous of her. "She was young," Jennings said. "She was making money. She was pretty."

Police have still not confirmed if Waits was one of Kiara's customers.

Waits told police earlier this week that he was forced to participate in the robbery and drive the getaway car for the shooter, according to an arrest affidavit.

The suspects stole items including electronics, jewelry, a purse and maybe some cash, police reported.

Though Waits insists his actions were forced, he hasn't been cooperative with the investigation, McElroy said.

Grant only became a suspect through a combination of physical evidence, witness statements and other tips, McElroy said.

One witness told police he saw Grant with three rings and a woman's wristwatch Tuesday. The witness said Grant tried to sell him a black revolver along with the jewelry, police said.

A second witness got a partial license plate number, which helped lead police to Waits. The police said that some of the Britos' belongings were found at Grant's home when searched.

Police said Grant admitted that it was his cell phone found near the scene but denied involvement in the crime.

Cell phone records indicated communication between Grant and Waits at the time of the slayings, police said.

Grant had seven active outstanding warrants for failing to register a motor vehicle and driving without a license with knowledge. The warrants were issued April 26.

In a different time, Grant played football at Armwood Senior High School in Seffner.

Armwood coach Sean Callahan said Grant was dismissed from the program shortly after the season ended. Callahan said Grant transferred to Tampa Bay Tech but was academically ineligible for 2009, his senior year. .

"(Former Tampa Bay Tech) Coach (C.C.) Culpepper worked with him as much as he could," Callahan said via text message. "I have no comment, just deeply saddened for all." Former players and coaches reached by the St. Petersburg Times expressed disbelief that the Grant they played with could commit such a crime.

In 2010, he was arrested after deputies accused him of jumping a student as the teen walked out of a Tampa Bay Tech restroom. Grant reportedly pinned the student against the wall with a rolled-up T-shirt, threw him to the ground and grabbed $300 from his pocket.

Grant was charged with robbery, his first violent offense.

Times staff writers Ileana Morales, Joey Knight and news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Investigation turns up more evidence in Tampa robbery and slaying of Brito teens 06/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 10, 2011 11:26pm]

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