Charles Waits is a “liar” who intentionally terrorized and murdered two children, along with his friend, Tavari Grant, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
“This was a planned, brutal robbery,” Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty said during her closing argument in Waits' murder trial. The evidence, she said, “absolutely shows that this defendant, everything he said about what occurred in that house, is a lie.”
The jury agreed.
Jurors took less than three hours to to convict Waits on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of armed robbery and one count of armed burglary of a structure in the home invasion robbery and slayings of two South Tampa teen siblings, Kiara Brito, 16, and her brother, Jeremi, 13, on June 5, 2011.
Defense attorney Octavio Gomez had urged jurors not to be swayed by emotion. What happened, he said, was “so sad.” Kiara Brito “she doesn't deserve this. ... It's a sad situation. But I don't want you to go to this deliberation thinking eye for an eye. … If they're going to prosecute you for first-degree murder, you have to prove it.”
Waits claims Grant — who faces trial later this month — forced him at gunpoint to participate in the robbery after he drove Grant to the Brito house so Grant could buy hydroponic marijuana from Kiara. He testified that Grant pointed a gun at him and then pushed him and Kiara into the house after Kiara answered to let Waits inside.
Waits said he ran out of the house before the children were shot and that Grant jumped in front of the car, blocking him as he tried to drive away. He said Grant threatened to kill him and his family if he told anyone what he'd done.
Gomez said because there was no forensic evidence inside the Brito home linking Waits to the crime scene proved Waits was telling the truth when he said he didn't get any more than a couple of feet into the house that morning.
But Doherty said other evidence proves conclusively that Waits was an active participant. The murder weapon was found near a vacant home next door to where a friend of Waits lived, Doherty said, and Waits had been seen both near that vacant house and holding that gun. Doherty also pointed to phone records showing phone calls between Waits and Grant before and immediately after the killings.
“These weren't people who were distant,” Doherty said. “These were two partners who made multiple phone calls to one another. … All of the evidence in this case shows the defendant and his good friend Tavari Grant intended, planned and decided to commit a robbery and a burglary. And the evidence in this case shows that this was a brutal first-degree homicide.”
Gomez urged jurors not to get confused by the prosecution and to concentrate on the “lack of evidence.”