TAMPA — Sitting in jail for the last two years, Mauntellis Deone Williams felt the weight of a possible life sentence looming.
In 2019, Hillsborough deputies arrested Williams, then 18, in a grisly crime at the Carousel Mobile Park in Tampa. Four people were shot, three of them fatally, in what authorities said was a botched home invasion robbery.
Prosecutors said Williams helped plan the robbery and opened fire. A grand jury indicted him on three counts of murder, one of them carrying a mandatory life sentence.
But Williams denied any involvement from the start. He rejected plea deal offers for less prison time and chose to take his chances at trial.
Last week, a jury acquitted him on all charges.
The evidence against Williams, presented over five days of testimony, was thin and not nearly enough to eliminate reasonable doubt, the jury’s foreman told the Tampa Bay Times this week.
“Now that this over,” Williams said, “I can get started with my life.”
A chaotic scene
Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies found a bloody, chaotic crime scene when they arrived Oct. 10, 2019, at the Carousel Park mobile home park, 5410 N Falkenburg Road.
Inside one home, they discovered a man and a woman dead from gunshot wounds. In a nearby common area, they found another man fatally shot. A fourth man was shot but survived and would be the state’s key witness.
Williams’ arrest report outlines investigators’ version of what happened.
Williams went to the home Oct. 9 to inquire about buying marijuana from two people who lived in the home, Courtland Doughlin, then 26, and 66-year-old Mary Zapata. They agreed on a price and Williams left.
A few hours later, Williams returned with Damien Bahamonde, 18, the report said. The two were inside the home when Davion Joyner barged in armed with a semiautomatic handgun and wearing a red cloth over his face. Joyner, 20, pointed the gun at Doughlin and Zapata, told them to get on the ground and announced they were being robbed.
Doughlin was armed with a handgun and, fearing for his life, fired at Joyner and Bahamonde, hitting both, the report said. Bahamonde ran from the home. Doughlin emptied his gun and was shot before escaping through a bedroom window.
Inside the home, deputies found Joyner dead and Zapata mortally wounded. Bahamonde was found dead about 50 yards away.
Four days later, Doughlin picked out Williams from a photo lineup as one of the men who came to arrange the pot buy and said he was there when the home invasion happened. A witness heard Williams and Bahamonde speaking about the robbery and Williams saying “he was willing to participate in the act if Bahamonde was willing to do so as well,” the report said.
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Not included in the arrest report is a key detail that prosecutors would argue at trial: Doughlin identified Williams as the suspect who fired off a number of rounds while fleeing, hitting Doughlin and Zapata.
Detectives found surveillance video that showed a black Infiniti SUV registered to Bahamonde across the street from the scene before and after the robbery. When investigators tracked down the Infiniti the next day, Williams’ fingerprints turned up on the driver side window.
In an interview with detectives, Williams said he drove Bahamonde, Joyner and a third man to the park Oct. 9. He said he briefly went into the home with Bahamonde and saw a man and an older woman. But Williams said when Bahamonde and Joyner asked him to drive them back there later, he refused. He said he was home at the time of the robbery.
Deputies arrested Williams on Dec. 9, 2019. Shortly after, a grand jury indicted him on one count of first-degree felony murder in Zapata’s death, two counts of second-degree felony murder in Joyner and Bahamonde’s death, and one count of attempted robbery with a deadly weapon. The first charge is punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Under Florida’s so-called felony murder rule, if a death occurs during the commission of felonies such as home invasion robbery, anyone involved in the felony may be charged with murder.
At the time of his arrest, Williams was out on bail on an unrelated grand theft charge, so a judge ordered him held in the Hillsborough County jail without bail until the murder case was resolved.
Williams said prosecutors offered him 15 years in prison, then 10. He rejected both offers.
His trial began Sept. 20 in front of a 12-member jury.
Jury not convinced
When the state rested after five days of testimony, foreman Keith Link and his fellow jurors were surprised.
Prosecutors presented no physical evidence linking Williams to the scene, and no witness testified to overhearing Williams agreeing to participate in the robbery, as his arrest report stated, Link said.
That made Doughlin’s testimony critical. But Link said jurors didn’t find Doughlin, a felon facing unrelated criminal charges, to be a credible witness. On the stand, he seemed less certain about whether Williams was there and opened fire.
“It sounded to us like he just assumed (Williams) came back with his friends the second time,” Link said.
Testimony also revealed that another man related to Joyner was found hiding down the street from the scene, but the man refused to give a statement and was never charged, Link said.
Jurors were on the same page from the start, and after deliberating for about 90 minutes, they agreed to acquit Williams on all four charges, Link said
“At the end of the day, it’s super frustrating,” he said, “because three people are dead and no one’s going to jail for it.”
A person who identified himself as Doughlin declined to comment via text message in response to a voicemail and text messages sent to a number listed for him.
The office of Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt, which represented Williams, also declined to comment.
The filing of charges and prosecution of the case was the purview of the State Attorney’s Office, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said in an email. “We value the partnership we share with the SAO and respect the jury’s decision,” the office said.
“Drug deal ripoff cases like these are extremely difficult to prosecute — the witnesses are often involved in the crime, juries don’t find them sympathetic or credible, and many are not willing to come forward,” Grayson Kamm, spokesman for State Attorney’s Office, said in an email. “However, public safety demands that we continue to aggressively prosecute these cases with whatever evidence is available to us.”
The acquittal is at least the third Hillsborough murder case this year that has ended in favor of the defendant.
In May, a jury acquitted Misael Mora in the 2018 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Te’Sean Blue in Tampa. Last month, a judge granted a motion for judgment of acquittal for Jarkese and Jaris Youngblood, who were charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ta’Zion “Bibby” Levison, 17. Levison was shot dead while riding in a car on I-4 in Plant City.
Kamm noted that since May, Hillsborough prosecutors have convicted 12 other murder defendants in 11 trials.
Two years in jail
When the verdict in his case was read, Williams said, “it was like a ton of bricks on my back just dropped.”
“I wanted to jump around the courtroom, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful to nobody or the judge, so I just kept my composure,” he said.
At a hearing two days later, Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez sentenced Williams, 20, to time served for his unrelated grand theft case. He walked out of jail on Saturday.
Williams’s mother, Lakesha Stephens, said her oldest son got good grades at Armwood High School, his alma mater, but he started hanging out with the wrong people and ended up getting wronged by the justice system.
“It was shameful,” Stephens said.
Before his arrest, Williams was considering a career in real estate. That’s still his goal.