TAMPA — Truth is truth, a detective said. And lies are lies.
“I’m just trying to tell you the truth,” Charles Stefan Waits responded during an interview in his lawyer’s office in which he wove a tale about a person named “Rocco,” who Waits said held a gun to his head and forced him to help in a home-invasion robbery that ended with the execution-style slayings of two South Tampa teenage siblings.
“I was fearing for my life,” Waits said. “I was scared. Everything was happening so fast.”
On Monday, Waits, 21, took the witness stand and said Rocco was real.
But he also said he lied to police. Rocco wasn’t there the day of the killings. Instead, he said, it was his good friend, Tavari Grant, who faces trial later this month.
Waits is charged with the murders of Kiara Brito, 16, and her brother, Jeremi, 13, on the morning of June 5, 2011. According to the prosecution, Waits invented Rocco to cover for Grant.
Waits testified Monday that Grant was with him and forced him to go along with the robbery and killings, threatening to kill him and his family if he told anyone what happened.
“I lied about Rocco being Tavari because I was scared at the time that Tavari would send someone after my family,” Waits testified.
The account Waits gave from the witness stand closely mirrored what he told police, with the exception of Grant being involved, instead of Rocco.
Before Waits testified, the prosecution played for jurors a recording of the interview Waits gave to detectives Gary Sandel and Charles Massucci in his lawyer’s office the day after the slayings.
Waits said he had met Rocco at a house party and then saw him the night of the killings at a club. Rocco wanted to buy marijuana, Waits said, so Waits said he drove him to the Brito house, intending to go to the door, purchase pot and take it back to Rocco in the car.
But as Waits told it, Rocco had other ideas.
“When we get to the house, he takes out a gun and puts it to my head,” Waits said, quoting Rocco as saying, “ ‘I’m going to kill you and your family, and you gotta do this right now.’ ”
Waits told the detectives that he parked the car, walked up to the door and knocked.
“It was like, ‘Who is it?’ I was like, ‘It’s me, open up.’ ” Waits said Rocco “ran and pushed me in and had the gun in my back and told everybody to lay down. … I was just standing there in shock. … I didn’t know what was going on.”
He said Jeremi came out and Rocco made Kiara put drugs in a bag.
“I ran out of the house to go to the car,’’ Waits told detectives. “By the time I was running, I heard gunshots.’’
Massuci urged Waits to cooperate and tell the truth.
“ A 13-year-old and a 16 year old are executed,” the detective said. “Ain’t nobody in Tampa going to call you a snitch.”
After the interview, investigators searched in vain for a Rocco.
During his testimony Monday, Waits said he went to Grant’s house a little before 5 a.m., and Grant wanted to buy some marijuana. Waits said he took Grant to the Brito house, and asked Grant for the money, intending to go to the door and make the purchase.
“Me and Kiara, we had a good relationship,” Waits said. “I considered her a good friend. She was nice. She gave me weed at a decent price…She was a pretty girl, a beautiful girl.’’
Waits said Grant insisted on going with him to the house. When Waits resisted, Grant pulled a gun and said he was going to rob them, Waits said.
“I know this girl,” Waits testified he said. “It ain’t going down like this.”
When Grant said he was going to rob them “for real,” Waits testified he put his key back in the ignition. “He put the gun to my head and said, ‘Listen.’ ...I seen evil at that time.”
Waits said Grant ordered him to walk to the house, and walked behind him. Waits said he knocked lightly on the door, and Grant stepped forward and banged on the door. When Kiara asked who it was, Waits said it was him.
Kiara opened the door and smiled in recognition, and then saw Grant and tried to slam the door, Waits said. Grant pushed them both into the room, he said.
Jeremi came into the room, and Grant ordered him to the floor, while ordering Kiara to get things and put them in a bag, Waits said. As Kiara ran around the house grabbing things, Waits said, Grant pointed the gun at him and told him to get the car.
“I was just shaking so much from everything that was going on,” Waits said. “When I put the keys in the ignition, I heard pop! pop!’’
As he tried to pull away, he said, Grant ran out in front of the car, and he slammed on the brakes. Grant got in and they drove away.