TAMPA — While the verdicts were read Thursday, the families sat in the hallway outside U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich's courtroom, tears in their eyes and frustration on their faces.
On one side sat Toquya Jones, 30, whose 16-year-old brother Calvin Barnes was kidnapped and executed, and Tesha Lazier, 36, who had two cousins who were killed and two who were shot by the same people.
On the other side of the hallway was the family of Corey Harris, a St. Petersburg man who was indicted along with five others on federal charges of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and robberies committed over a seven-year period in Manatee County. The six men were said to be gang members and faced life in prison.
Since June 6 the families have seen each other at the courthouse, but have never crossed sides, even waiting to take separate elevators. Yet for two hours Thursday they sat quietly together, while behind closed doors a jury, which has deliberated since Aug. 25, read the verdicts of the six men. The courtroom was ordered closed by the judge.
When they heard the news, both sides broke into tears of relief and joy.
Harris, 23, was charged with drug trafficking and pleaded guilty to the distribution of crack cocaine, but was found not guilty in the murder of Brenton Coleman and of conspiracy charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Nathaniel Harris, 23, Napoleon Harris, 29, Charlie L. Green, 27, Jerry W. Green Jr., 31, and Deonte Jamal Martin, 28, all from Bradenton, were each found guilty of at least one murder count, with Charlie Green convicted on three counts. All were found guilty of the drug and RICO conspiracy charges.
All but Harris face life in prison. He could get up to 120 years, or 30 years for each conviction.
"I know my son did not kill that man," said Tiffany Washington, Harris' mother. "I'm just sad he's sat in prison for so long and his name's been drug through the mud."
The crimes occurred between 2006 and 2013. Among those killed were Christopher Jenkins, Demetrious Cunningham, Calvin Barnes, Ceola Lazier, Carlos Jurado, Brenton Coleman, Joseph Evans, Rodney D. Lamb and Erika Williams.
Coleman's death, at the 13th Avenue Recreation Center in Bradenton, was witnessed by a crowd of children at a youth football practice. Evans' was a case of mistaken identity. Barnes' was a ploy to get to Cunningham.
"I dropped everything to be here," said Lazier, who was making name badges for parents of the New Manatee Broncos football team when she got a call that a verdict had been reached. Ceola Lazier and Brenton Coleman were her cousins.
"It's just very disappointing that we couldn't be inside the courtroom, … '' she said. "I wanted to see their faces."
When they heard the verdicts, Lazier and Jones smiled and hugged, telling prosecutors thank you. The two sides of the lobby gave each other a brief and knowing glance. Then the families left through doors on opposite sides of the courthouse.