—”I thought it was firecrackers,” Shenita Williams testified Thursday morning, describing the night her house was shot more than 50 times, and her 8-year-old niece, Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, was killed.
Inside, “the house was smoking … everyone was screaming. I knew something was wrong.”
She came out of her bedroom into a hallway, but “it was so much smoke, you couldn’t see anything, you just heard the loud noise of the guns.”
And then her niece passed her in the smoke, dressed in her nightclothes, clutching a security blanket around her.
And then, Williams said, “I seen her eyes go up and then she collapsed.”
Paris had been killed, caught in the crossfire of something she didn’t understand
Asked about the three defendants accused of killing Paris, she said, “I don’t know none of those guys. I never saw them before.”
Shenita Williams’ two adult sons, Keith Whitfield and Richard Junior, also testified.
Whitfield said he too was home at the time of the shooting and he too thought he heard fireworks.
When he realized it was gunfire, he said he ducked and waited for it to stop. Then he saw “a lot of smoke everywhere” and soon realized “my cousin was on the ground” and had been shot. “Everyone was in the hallway trying to bring her back.”
“She had a whole lot of blood,” Junior said, and was unable to say anything more.
In response to a question from Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger, Whitfield said he had heard of the group called 8-Hype based in the Harbordale neighborhood– one of two feuding neighborhood gangs – but was not a member. He said there was no reason anyone from another group, the Bethel Heights Boys, would have been targeting him.
Junior said that he did associate in the past with the Harbordale group, and so did Markeath “Monster” Fielder, who also was in the house on the night of the shooting.
Then Ripplinger asked Junior questions about an event that, according to prosecutors, led up to the shooting.
Junior said he went to a party at the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg on April 4, 2009, and a crowd formed outside. “There was a lot of stuff being said,” between Bethel Heights group and the 8-Hype group. One of the people in the Bethel Heights group that night, he said, was Harper, one of the defendants.
Then Junior said heard gunfire behind him. He said he’s not sure who was shooting. Prosecutors say it Junior’s friend Fielder who shot in direction of the Bethel Heights group that night. And they say this caused the Bethel Heights group to retaliate, which ultimately led to the shooting of the house where Paris lived.
Junior said Fielder called the house before coming over to ask if Paris was sleeping in her bed, and Junior said yes. He testified that he did not wonder why Fielder was asking. (Police reports and court records have described this call as a warning to get Paris out of the front room where she was sleeping, in case someone targeted the house.)
The first witness Thursday was St. Petersburg police officer Ryan Hilsdon, who was among the officers who first responded to the shooting scene.
“There were bullet holes all over the walls, smoke still billowing in the air,” Hilsdon testified, describing the scene inside the house at 771 Preston Ave. S. He said paramedics already were inside “tending to a little girl who was laying on the floor.”
Dondre Davis, Stephen Cortez Harper and Duong Dai Nguyen, all 21, are on trial on first degree murder charges.
The three are accused of shooting into the St. Petersburg house because they were angry at a man inside.
A fourth man, Mario Lewis Walls, already pleaded guilty to second degree murder and is expected to testify against the others.
St. Petersburg Times