A revenge attack ended in tragedy, but who was really to blame?
The shooting sparked outcry in St Petersburg.
Innocent Paris was known as a lovely little girl who liked reading mystery books.
She was being brought up by her aunt, Shenita Williams, 42, after her mum died three years earlier and her father was serving overseas with the military.
Paris slept in the ground-floor front bedroom of the house.
And when she was woken by gunfire in the early hours, she tried to flee the room. But, tragically, she scurried into a barrage of bullets.
One pierced her chest and went through her heart.
Paris collapsed in the hallway in front of her horrified aunt, and died shortly after at Bayfront Health Medical Center.
No-one else in the house was hit.
Police instantly realised they were dealing with a revenge attack. That the tragic little girl was an innocent victim when gang warfare exploded around her.
‘This was not a random act,’ Police Chief Charles Harmon said. ‘In the crossfire, this young girl lost her life.’
A code of silence typically shrouded the city, especially among the gangs and youths.
But residents were so shocked at the senseless killing, so horrified, that witnesses began to come forward.
Four teenagers were then arrested – Mario Walls, Duong Dai Nguyen, Stephen Cortez Harper and Dondre Davis, all aged 18 or 19.
All were members of the Bethel Heights Boys, a local gang.
During a raid on an address, police seized three assault rifles, two shotguns and one bulletproof vest.
After, there was a wake, a march in honour of Paris.
The street was even renamed Paris Avenue.
But it was over two years before the case eventually came to court.
And, months before the trial, Walls agreed to testify against his co-defendants, breaking the strict ‘no snitching’ rule inherent in St Petersburg’s criminal underbelly.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.
In November 2011, when Nguyen, Harper and Davis went on trial for first-degree murder, Walls’ statement became the centrepiece of the trial.
The three others all pleaded not guilty.
Opening the case, prosecution lawyer Doneene Dresback Loar told the jury there were nine people, including Paris and her aunt, staying at the house that night.
Another was Shenita’s son Richard and his friend Markeath ‘Monster’ Fielder.
The pair were known to have had associations with local gang 8-Hype, and Fielder may have been involved in the brewing gang feud.
Richard told officers he’d been jumped by members of the Bethel Heights Boys hours before the murder.
Fielder had allegedly retaliated, pulled out a gun, and shot at the ground in his rival’s direction.
Furious, the Bethel Heights Boys decided Fielder had to die.
So, on 5 April, Davis, Walls, Harper and Nguyen piled into a red Ford Focus, with Walls behind the wheel.
Evidence suggested someone from 8-Hype had called Richard. Warned him. Advised him to take Paris out of the front bedroom.
Whether it was too late, or simply ignored, Paris wasn’t moved from harm’s way.
After driving around the block, the Bethel Heights Boys couldn’t find Fielder.
According to Walls’ statement, Davis decided it was time to act.
‘And they were just, like f *ck it, so Dondre Davis and Nguyen got out of the car and just start shooting up the house, and then a whole bunch – a whole bunch of shots,’ Walls said.
Bullets tore through windows, pierced walls, doors and mirrors.
Eight of the inhabitants hit the ground, ducking the shots as the whole house filled with smoke and debris.
And, in the hail of 50-plus gunshots, little Paris was hit.
In court, Shenita took the stand.
‘The house was smoking,’ she said. ‘Everybody was screaming.’
Then she said she’d seen Paris, wrapped up in her sleeping bag, standing at an archway.
Shenita said Paris looked at her, then her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she collapsed.
The three defendants didn’t give evidence. But the defence lawyer for Harper argued he wasn’t guilty of murder, as he hadn’t pulled the trigger.
Davis and Nguyen denied being there at all.
They said they weren’t the passengers in the car, and they weren’t the gunmen.
Both their lawyers told the jury there was no physical evidence proving either of them was at the house that night.
Davis’ lawyer said many of the witnesses were unreliable, due to their gang connections. And he claimed Walls couldn’t be relied on as he’d struck a deal simply to avoid a life sentence.
Ms Dresback Loar maintained all three were at the scene, and that they had gone there intending to kill someone.
She stated that, under Florida law, a defendant could be found guilty of first-degree murder even if someone other than the intended target is killed instead.
She said all three men should be found guilty for ‘shooting not once, not twice, but 56 times into a small home occupied by many people’.
Once all the lawyers had had their say, it was down to the jury to decide.
Dondre Davis, Duong Dai Nguyen, and Stephen Cortez Harper, all then 21, were each convicted of the first-degree murder of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton.
Pinellas and Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley jailed the trio for life, with no possibility of parole.
Outside court, the girl’s aunt, Shenita, said, ‘Their life ended today. It was justice, but no victory.’
At a later hearing, Mario Walls, who had co-operated with the prosecution, was jailed for 15 years for second-degree murder.