LARGO — After they ransacked the house, opened every cupboard and cut apart the sofa, after they shot a man, the men in masks found the closet in which Tamika Mack was hiding.
The 24-year-old begged for her life. She told the intruders she had two young sons to look after. Unmoved, one of them shot her in the head that Easter morning of 2012.
The trial of one of the men accused of killing Mack, 24-year-old John Curry IV, began Tuesday with this version of events from prosecutors, who said Curry was one of two or three men involved in Mack's death. Citing a videotaped confession, they said Curry had admitted to breaking into the house on 11th Avenue S in search of drugs and cash. Though they stopped short of accusing him of firing the single shot that killed Mack, they said Curry heard her pleading and did nothing to intervene.
Why Mack was in that house, after working an overnight shift at a nursing home, is still a mystery to her family.
Prosecutors said she was in a relationship with the home's owner, Tore V. Holley, who is now in federal prison in Orlando and is expected to testify in the case. At 5 a.m. April 8, the two were in Holley's bedroom when several intruders kicked in the front door.
They left the furniture in ribbons and opened every drawer in the kitchen, then made their way systematically from one room to the next until reaching the bedroom. According to prosecutors, Holley used the weight of his body to keep the door closed until it would no longer hold. He grabbed a Pyrex cooking dish and smashed it over the head of the first man.
The intruders shot Holley several times, and he fell to the ground, where prosecutors said he played dead, even as the men moved in on Mack.
It's because of the Pyrex dish that anyone knows Curry was there the night Mack was killed.
Cut badly by the broken glass, he left behind DNA that investigators later used to track him down. Months after the slaying, the U.S. Marshal's Office found Curry in the small Panhandle city of Blountstown. Holley, the only surviving witness to the murders, has been unable to identify the other men.
Defense attorney Kelly McCabe did not quibble with the physical evidence. She said Curry was there that night, but only to buy drugs from Holley.
"My client was not there to rob anyone, to burglarize that home, and he was not there with those other men who did this crime," she said.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in this case. If Curry is found guilty of first-degree murder, he will receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Before his 16th birthday, Curry had already been arrested on cocaine possession charges. And the arrests kept coming, most of them drug-related. He eventually wound up with a prison sentence and was released in August 2011.
If Tamika Mack had any misgivings about Holley, she didn't tell her family. Outside the courtroom Tuesday, her mother, Janice Mack, said she'd never heard of Holley. The two weren't dating, she said. Tamika Mack and her two sons were living with her parents at the time of her death.
"She never mentioned him to me," Janice Mack said. "She was a very private young lady. She didn't have a bunch of boyfriends, she took care of her kids. She was very responsible."
The product of a large, tightly knit family, Mack graduated from Dixie Hollins High School and got a license to become an X-ray technician. Ultimately, her mother said, she wanted to become a teacher and mentor troubled children.
Rosemarie Langley, Mack's aunt, said it still comes as a shock that her niece was in Holley's company. Her best guess is that Tamika simply hadn't known there were drugs in the house, she said, which wouldn't be unusual for someone who tried to see the best in everyone.
"She had such an innocence about herself," Langley said. "That's how I'd guess she got there, from just being innocent and naive."
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] of (727) 893-8779.