TAMPA — At 16, Kiara Brito was an experienced underground businesswoman.
She sold designer watches and marijuana and was a tattoo artist, inking customers on a tattoo chair in the living room of the South Tampa home she shared with her mother and younger brother, Jeremi.
It was her talent as a tattoo artist that brought her in contact with Charles Stefan Waits, one of the men accused of murdering her and Jeremi during a home invasion robbery on June 5, 2011.
Authorities say Waits and his friend, Tavari Grant, killed the teenaged siblings and then stole watches, perfume and other items. Waits, who is known to friends by his middle name, is standing trial in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. Grant faces trial later this month.
Lisa Hammock testified Wednesday she was friends with Waits’ mother and considers Waits to be like her nephew. Hammock’s daughter, Alexis Jackson, attended Robinson High School with Kiara, who performed tattoo work on her upper arm.
Jackson said Waits admired one of her tattoos, so she and her mother took Waits over to the Brito home one day to meet Kiara.
Kiara showed him some tattoo ideas on a laptop computer and quoted him some prices, Jackson testified. She didn’t remember if they’d made arrangements for work to be done.
After the killings, Waits told investigators he had bought marijuana from Kiara and sold some to someone named Rocco. The prosecution maintains Rocco was really Grant. Waits said Rocco wanted to buy more marijuana so Waits took him to the Brito home that morning.
Waits told investigators Rocco pulled a gun on him and coerced him to go along with the robbery before shooting and killing Kiara and Jeremi.
The morning of the killings, the children’s mother, Judy Brito, was with her boyfriend at Treasure Island.
The agonized mother testified Wednesday that she had allowed her daughter be home alone before but that day was the first time she left Jeremi. Kiara, her mother said, “worked and she had her own, you know her tattooing and stuff. But Jeremi was always with me.”
Brito said when she left the house that night, Kiara was home and planning to go out with friends. Jeremi was out with friends. She said she called and texted several times with both children through the night. Around 4 a.m., she said, she told her son to go home to be with his sister.
“ I had spoken to her and Kiara doesn’t like to sleep by herself,” she said, weeping. “And so I told Jeremi to go home so Kiara wouldn’t have to be by herself.”
According to other trial evidence, Kiara arrived home about an hour later, and both teens were shot minutes later.
Hammock testified she learned of the shootings that morning from her daughter, and they went out to the street where the Britos lived. While there, she said, she got a call from Waits, and she told him what happened.
“He said he was sorry,” Hammock testified. “He felt sorry for the family, that his prayers were with the family.” And, she said, Waits asked her, “Auntie, they don’t think it was me, do they?”
“And I was like, no,” she said. “And he was, like, his prayers go out to the family, and that was it.”
The prosecution also called to testify a friend of Waits’ who was with him at a nightclub the night before the shooting. Khayri McCray is serving 20 years in state prison for his role in another shooting that left two injured and another dead at a high school graduation party in Riverview in May 2010.
After the Riverview shooting, authorities said, McCray called Waits to take him from the park where witnesses said the gun was dumped.
After the Brito killings, McCray testified he told detectives where they could find the gun used in the shootings, saying he had seen Waits with it.
Among the witnesses expected to be called Thursday is April Grant, mother of Tavari Grant. Her other son, Denzel Baker, is in jail for contempt of court for refusing to testify at a deposition in this case.
Both the defense and the prosecution informed Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles on Wednesday that they expect April Grant to be a hostile witness and asked that she be warned of the consequences of perjury and warned about limiting her testimony to answering the questions posed.