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St. Petersburg police hunt the killers of 8-year-old girl

ST. PETERSBURG — The investigation into Paris Whitehead-Hamilton's murder did not end with the arrest of three suspects and the questioning of another.

That's why police were playing good cop-bad cop on the city's streets Thursday.

Uniformed officers went door to door in Bartlett Park and the Citrus Grove Apartments, handing out fliers and encouraging residents to share anything they might know about the shooting death of the 8-year-old.

And while they politely knocked on doors, SWAT teams were busting into two alleged drug houses in Bartlett Park. Officers clad in black masks and body armor arrested five and seized drugs, cash and guns.

The raided homes at 832 20th Ave. S and 721 21st Ave. S are in the territory of Harbordale, the neighborhood gang whose feud with the Bethel Heights Boys led to Sunday's murder, police say.

Those raids and arrests also are part of the ongoing murder investigation.

"They have information about the murder," said Maj. Mike Puetz. "We plan to continue to apply pressure on these individuals who, frankly, are making things rough on good people in that neighborhood.

"And it gives us opportunities to obtain intelligence about Paris' case and any other case in that neighborhood."

• • •

There have been three arrests in connection with Paris' murder, and a fourth suspect whose possible role in the slaying is still being examined by police.

But police have yet to offer a complete picture of who did what in the murder case.

That's because they don't have one yet.

"There are some holes and some gaps in the testimony at this point," Puetz said, "that make some of these aspects unknown to us."

The suspects are accused of spraying Paris' home with more than 50 rounds from AR-15 semiautomatic rifles intended for a gang rival. Instead, they hit the girl three times. She died within the hour at a hospital.

Here's what else police say they know:

Stephen Cortez Harper, 18, was arrested Sunday on a charge of being a principal to first-degree murder. He told police he helped load the weapons and put them into a vehicle used in the shooting.

Dondre Davis, 19, was arrested after a long manhunt Wednesday on charges of first-degree murder, armed burglary and possession of marijuana. He is the first suspect police have accused of pulling a trigger in the murder. His fingerprints were also found in the vehicle police think was used in the murder.

Mario Lewis Walls, 18, also was arrested Wednesday on charges of being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and possession of marijuana. He drove the vehicle used in the murder, police say, and left his fingerprints behind, too.

Duong Dai Nguyen, 19, was the third suspect arrested Wednesday on a charge of possession of marijuana. He has only been questioned about the murder case, police say, but isn't likely to be let out of jail soon. Prosecutors had his bond on previous arrests revoked.

All four are being held in the Pinellas County Jail.

• • •

Two of the suspects are fathers.

Harper has a 5-month-old son. Walls' girlfriend is seven months pregnant with his child.

Rick Walls, father of Mario Walls, came to his son's first court appearance on Thursday afternoon. His son appeared by video from the county jail.

"He's actually a real good kid, he's not an animal … he's got a heart," said the elder Walls, a St. Petersburg carpenter. "He's a real shy kid. No kind of violent crime, he doesn't have a violent record or a criminal record."

The father said he feels for Paris' family. "I just wish I could go by there and give my condolences, send flowers or something. I know that's not much."

• • •

Here's who was arrested in Thursday's raid:

Glen Edwards Jr., 31, and Antwan Rowe, 29, were arrested at 832 20th Ave. S on charges of operating a drug house, crack cocaine possession and possession of marijuana.

Arrested at 721 21st Ave. S were Latrice Baxter, 18, on a charge of operating a drug house; Ladarian Huell, 19, on a charge of obstruction; and Darryl Shingles, 29, on charges of operating a drug house, possession of crack cocaine and marijuana, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

• • •

Meanwhile, Paris' family gathered with community leaders on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday afternoon to announce a campaign aimed at ending street violence.

The program, called Helping Paris Connect the Dots, is designed to teach young people to stop the code of silence that allows criminals to run free, said Sevell C. Brown III, president of the Florida Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Leaders will go into schools and community centers and speak to youth to spread a message — when you see something illegal, report it.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Call us with a tip

Anyone with information about the murder investigation is asked to call the tip line at (727) 892-5000 or they can text police at (727) 420-8911.

On the Web

To see video of the
police raids, go to
links.tampabay.com.

St. Petersburg police hunt the killers of 8-year-old girl 04/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 1:44pm]
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