TAMPA — The man accused of killing a popular Tampa drag queen cried Wednesday as he testified in his own defense.
Deandre Tolliver, who turned 26 Tuesday, sat unshackled in court for the first time in two years, his dreadlocks brushing the top of his dark suit jacket as he told a jury he did not kill Anthony Jerome Lee.
"I understand very well what is going on," he said in response to a prosecutor's questions. "I know very well that someone's life has been taken. But I —"
He stopped, sobbing.
"I am not the person that did this."
A panel of 12 will begin deliberating this morning, a day after state and defense attorneys finished presenting their cases.
Prosecutors have accused Tolliver of shooting Lee, 44, who was well known for his performances as a drag queen named Wanda. On May 28, 2013, Lee was shot in the east Tampa home of Tiffany McKinney, a friend for whom he was making dinner.
McKinney previously testified that she heard a man tussle with Lee, forcing his way inside as he demanded money. She hid in a bathroom and called 911 before hearing gunshots.
Detectives questioned several people who implicated Tolliver in the crime.
Kurt McGuire came to police to tell them what he knew. He testified that he drove Tolliver, who did not have a driver's license, from Lakeland to Tampa in exchange for $200. With them was Bernard Hamilton, who used to live in the home with McKinney but was kicked out after she suspected that he stole money from her.
McGuire and Hamilton did not know Tolliver had a gun, prosecutors said. After the shooting, McGuire said, Tolliver made him drive back to Lakeland at gunpoint.
Tolliver testified that he immediately turned himself in when he learned that he was wanted for questioning. When detectives interrogated him, he denied knowing some of the people connected to the case, including McGuire. He said it was because he was scared.
"When I turned myself in … I had no idea what was going on," he said.
On the day of the killing, he drove his girlfriend to work, he said, then spent the day filling out applications for temporary work.
He denied paying McGuire to drive him to Tampa.
The state argued that Tolliver went to the home to steal money from McKinney. He went inside expecting to see a woman, not a man.
The defense pointed out in closing arguments that no physical evidence ties Tolliver to the crime. Public defender Jennifer Spradley also noted discrepancies between witness statements.
"They all contradict each other," she said. "Everyone in this case is trying to save their own skin."
If convicted, Tolliver faces life in prison.
Contact Dan Sullivan at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.