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Tampa shooting rampage suspect's brother was hitman in Carolina Panthers murder case

Andre Watkins

Andre Watkins

This is not the first time a member of the Watkins family has faced murder charges.

Andre Rodne Watkins, 53, is accused of a shooting rampage that terrorized north Tampa Friday night, leaving one woman dead and two men critically wounded.

His brother, Van Brett Watkins, 49, is the convicted hit man whom former NFL wide receiver Rae Carruth paid to kill the mother of Carruth's unborn child.

In a case that got national attention, Van Brett Watkins admitted firing the gun that killed Carruth's pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, in November 1999. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, attempting to kill an unborn child and shooting into an occupied vehicle.

Incarcerated in North Carolina with Carruth, Van Brett Watkins won't be released until 2041, prison records say.

In Tampa on Monday, Dominic Fariello, Andre Watkins' attorney, confirmed the relationship and said other members of the family think the latest shooting could have been prevented if Andre — a man with a lengthy criminal record — had received help.

"Our family member has been failed by society," Fariello said, reading a statement from the family. "Andre has been crying for a long time."

During Carruth's trial in 2000, a defense attorney released some information about Van Brett Watkins' criminal past that included setting another inmate on fire, pistol-whipping a man, threatening his wife with a meat clever and stabbing his brother.

It's not clear if that brother was Andre Watkins.

Fariello didn't elaborate on Watkins' past or problems but hinted that a defense angle may focus on his client's medication.

"Those are questions that go right into the facts of the case," he said.

Watkins will be in court today on charges of first-degree murder, armed carjacking, armed kidnapping and three counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Hillsborough sheriff's officials say he carjacked a truck, killed 19-year-old Alyssa Marie Aracich, wounded Ariel Love, 27, and convenience store clerk Akbar Alwani, 57, and fired several shots at a neighbor on Friday in a violent rampage spanning several miles in different vehicles. After an intensive manhunt, deputies captured him as he refueled his car at a Plant City gas station at 1 a.m. Saturday.

Investigators think he targeted people he knew.

But the son of Akbar Alwani, a BP gas station clerk shot in the abdomen, said there was no connection between the two men.

"No. We don't know the suspect," Nadir Alwani, 29, said. "He was just picking targets. Something was going on in his mind."

He said that after speaking to his father and the store's owner, it appears a man came into his father's gas station Friday night asking for a pack cigarettes, and Akbar Alwani put them on the counter.

The man pulled out some money, but suddenly, his countenance shifted, and he told the clerk that he had heard that he had been talking ill of him.

"What?" Alwani responded.

The man repeated his statement, drawing the same confused response from Alwani.

Out came a gun, and Alwani took a bullet in his lower abdomen. He dialed 911.

On Monday, Alwani remained in intensive care at St. Joseph's Hospital after surgery to repair his stomach and ruptured colon. Love, another victim, was also listed in serious condition there.

"Nothing like this has ever happened before," Nadir Alwani said.

After shooting Alwani, authorities say, the gunman drove to the home of Bruce Demetrius Jackson, a construction company owner who lives two homes from Watkins.

Jackson, 32, said on Monday that he was at his mailbox calling for his children when a car crept up.

"I started walking toward my house and as I turned around, he was getting out of the car," Jackson said. "He said, 'Bruce, you dead. Bruce, you dead.' "

Two shots rang out but missed.

Jackson ran into his home, followed by the gunman. He dove through some blinds and out a window as more shots trailed him while he ran down the block and hid behind a car.

Jackson, who has been Watkins' neighbor for more than a decade, said Watkins has brandished a gun or fired in the air on at least four occasions.

"He was always considered the neighborhood crazy guy," Jackson said. "He would talk to you one day, the next day he would want to fight you."

Jackson said he reported incidents, including a threatening voice message, to sheriff's deputies. They have visited Watkins' home at 10806 Wingate Drive 25 times in five years, including nine in 2009, sheriff's records show.

"I talked to the police, but they didn't do anything," said Jackson.

The sentiment was shared by another neighbor, Fred Watson, Love's father. In 2008, neighbors said, Watkins chased Watson with a pistol in a dispute over landscaping. He was arrested, but the charge was dropped.

Times staff writer Kim Wilmath and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at or (813) 226-3368.

Tampa shooting rampage suspect's brother was hitman in Carolina Panthers murder case 02/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 12:21pm]
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