JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the men charged in a shootout that killed a 7-year-old Jacksonville girl last August has opted to plead guilty in the case.
Trevonte Phoenix, 18, had been facing felony murder and weapons charges in connection with the Westside gun battle that ended the life of Heidy Rivas Villanueva.
Phoenix pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He will be sentenced later. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years but could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Heidy and her family were caught in the crossfire that unfolded in the parking lot of a Westside strip mall after a botched robbery, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Heidy, who was shot in the head, did not survive.
“She was loving, kind, happy, beautiful," Heidy's mother, Angelica Villanueva, said Wednesday through a victim advocate translator. “She always wanted to keep the family together.”
She said Heidy dreamed of being a doctor, or even a police officer, in hopes of keeping her family safe.
Villanueva told News4Jax that she believes Phoenix is remorseful, and that he wrote her family a letter, which she said she has read.
Police said Phoenix and another man, named Abrion Price, had arranged a gun sale near the strip mall, but they actually planned to rob the buyer. They ended up trading gunfire with Stanley Harris, a friend of the buyer, police said.
Investigators said a bullet from Harris' gun struck Heidy, killing her. Because police said Phoenix and Price were committing a crime when Heidy was killed, they were each charged with felony murder, under Florida law.
Harris faces a third-degree murder charge.
Villanueva said she knows Phoenix did not intentionally shoot Heidy. She said she wants him to reflect on his actions, read the Bible and get close to the Lord as he serves his time.
Villaneuva "really believes that (Heidy is) not suffering now, and she’s in heaven close to the Lord," the translator said.
Phoenix's family declined to comment after Wednesday's court appearance.
A fourth man, Edward Garcia, who was charged as a getaway driver, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to a first-degree felony and is awaiting sentencing.
According to police, Garcia’s involvement was showing up at the scene to pick up Price and Phoenix as the gun battle played out. His mother’s vehicle was struck by gunfire during the shooting.
His mother, Kezia Holmes, is charged with evidence tampering. She’s accused of taking the vehicle to a repair shop to get the windshield replaced, despite knowing it was involved in a crime. She is awaiting trial.
Price and Harris have pleaded not guilty to their charges. They are awaiting trial.
Phoenix is expected back in court on May 13.