TAMPA — Charles Waits doesn’t deny he was with the person who killed two South Tampa teen siblings in the early morning hours of June 5, 2011.
But his lawyer told jurors in his murder trial Tuesday that the prosecution can’t prove Waits wasn’t coerced.
Waits told investigators he was forced by someone named “Rocco” to participate in the robbery and killings of Kiara Brito, 16, and her brother, Jeremi, 13, in the siblings’ home at 3021 W. Van Buren Drive, according to Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty.
But Doherty said there is no proof Rocco even exists. Instead, she said, the evidence will prove that Waits’ good friend, Tavari Grant, killed the teens. Grant faces trial later this month.
“There will be no doubt,” Doherty told jurors. “It’s uncontradicted that the defendant was present at the victims’ house during this horrific murder.”
Authorities say the teens were killed during a home invasion by Waits and Grant, who stole jewelry, marijuana and other items.
Kiara knew Waits, and Doherty said the girl opened the door for him but then saw Grant holding a gun and tried to close the door.
Waits told investigators he bought marijuana from Kiara in the past and had sold some of it to Rocco. Waits said that on the night of the killings, Rocco asked about buying more, and he agreed to take Rocco to the house.
Waits said he drove Rocco to the Brito house, and when he parked the car, Rocco pulled a gun on him, saying, “You’re going to do this.”
According to Doherty, Waits said Kiara let him into the house.
“Rocco proceeds to hold the gun on him as well as Kiara Brito and her brother, Jeremi, forcing the children to gather up stuff and bring him stuff so he could rob them.”
Waits told investigators he managed to escape and run from the house and wasn’t there when the kids were shot.
“He is fleeing the area when Rocco is in front of his car, and he hears gunshots and Rocco jumps into his car and says, ‘They’re shooting, Go! Go! Go!’ And he takes off with Rocco and he drops him off at a location.”
A neighbor heard the gunshots and pursued Waits’ car from the scene, exchanging gunfire at one point, and writing down the license plate.
Investigators talked to Waits after tracing the car, which was registered in his mother’s name, Doherty said.
“I grab the keys to the car from the key rack and I ran and jumped in the car and as I do that, I see a guy running away from the Brito house,” neighbor Jermel Allen testified. There was a car in front of the Brito home that he’d thought earlier was an undercover police car, he said. But after the shots were fired, he saw a guy standing outside the car with a chrome gun in his hand.
He followed the car, and says he sees one of the men standing next to a bus. “I see the sparks from the gun,” Allen testified. “I fired back at him. … As I shoot at him, he’s running behind the bus and he kind of stayed behind the bus.”
The man got into the car that had been in front of the Brito home, and Allen said he chased them north on MacDill Avenue. He testified he was trying to get his cell phone and call 911 and he lost them. “The car was a lot faster.”
Allen said he initially didn’t tell police he had a gun that night because he’s a 10-time felon not legally allowed to have a firearm. But he later became concerned after hearing rumors that he might be implicated and said he decided to come clean.
When police arrived, they went inside the Brito home and encountered a bloody scene. Both children had been shot in the head. Kiara was dead on the floor, and her brother, barely clinging to life, was kneeling against the couch, unable to speak before he fell over. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Judy Brito, the children’s mother, was in court for most of the testimony but was overcome with emotion at the description of her children’s final moments.
Defense lawyer Octavio Gomez said the killings were “terrible.” The Brito teens were “executed in their home,” Gomez said. “It’s brutal.”
Waits, Gomez said, will admit he drove the car.
Gomez said investigators thoroughly searched Waits’ home and found nothing that came from the Brito home. “Everything’s in Tavari’s house,” Gomez told jurors. “You will be convinced, the state cannot prove my client was not under duress. You will make a finding of not guilty.”