Crime

A man who calls himself ‘Champ’ is accused of killing aspiring rapper ‘Stro Corleone’

Wanda Fort, mother of Christopher Strother, standing with hands clasped and wearing a striped shirt in the center, participates in a protest last week at the Northside District police station.
Wanda Fort, mother of Christopher Strother, standing with hands clasped and wearing a striped shirt in the center, participates in a protest last week at the Northside District police station. crabin@miamiherald.com

Three weeks ago, aspiring rapper and social worker Christopher Strother got into an argument with Khiry Jawan Williams, a man known as “Champ” who has been convicted of striking a law enforcement officer and carrying a concealed weapon.

What they were arguing about on the second-floor balcony of a Miami Gardens apartment complex isn’t exactly clear. Some believe it was over a car break-in. Strother wasn’t wearing shoes.

On Monday afternoon, after a three-week search that included wanted posters throughout Miami Gardens, Williams, 27, was found and charged with killing Strother, 30, with a single gunshot — as the rapper was making his way into his apartment, probably to put on some shoes.

“If you are going to fight, you need to put some shoes on,” a witness said to Strother just before he was shot, according to Williams’ arrest warrant.

According to police, “The victim then began retreating [in] order to go inside his own apartment when the offender pursued the victim and fired a gun at the victim, striking him in the chest.”

Strother, a former college football standout who is not married and had a 12-year-old son, was airlifted to Aventura Hospital, where he later died.

Miami Gardens police found Williams at an auto repair store on Monday. He was taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and denied bond.

Strother’s March 14 death, though not much different from many shootings, somehow caught the public’s attention. It might have been his song list on SoundCloud. Or the mostly happy-go-lucky music videos he posted on his Facebook page.

But most likely what caught the public’s eye was that witnesses had come forward and named the shooter, a person many knew and someone Strother’s mom said performed on some of her son’s videos.

This also made the shooting newsworthy: Despite posters of Williams plastered on walls and poles all over Miami Gardens, it took police three weeks to catch up with him.

That was seized upon quickly by a local group that rallies regularly in support of family members of dead children. Last week they gathered at Miami-Dade’s Northside District police station — Strother’s mother among them — demanding to know why some of their cases had languished for years while a man who shot and injured two cops was captured within 24 hours.

Valencia Gunder, aunt of 8-year-old Jada Page, killed in front of her home last year by a bullet that struck her in the back of her head, demands equal treatment for the families of murder victims at a rally outside Miami-Dades Northside District

The protest was effective enough that by Sunday, according to activist Tangela Sears, a family member of Williams contacted her and said they were getting a lawyer and he was going to turn himself in. Williams was arrested in Strother’s killing the next day.

The arrest brought some relief to Strother’s mom, Wanda Fort, who quickly added that it won’t bring back her son.

“That was my only child,” she said. “The only thing I can do is take it day by day.”

State records show Williams has been dealing with law enforcement for the better part of a decade. Most of his arrests ended in convictions. In 2009 he was charged by Miami-Dade police with resisting arrest without violence and pleaded no contest. The same year Miramar police arrested him on a concealed weapon charge. Again he pleaded no contest.

By 2010 he was found guilty of aggravated battery against a firefighter, trespassing and disorderly intoxication. And in 2013 he was again arrested in Miami-Dade, charged with domestic battery and criminal mischief. That case was dropped. A burglary charge in Broward County is pending.

Friends, family and social media posts point to Strother as humble, cheerful and engaged. He posted a smiling video of himself driving in an SUV and singing to music only five hours before he was killed.

Strother had been making music, had just begun working at his “dream” job and was coaching his son’s football team at the time of his death.

Fort said her son was born in San Diego and moved back to Miami with her before his first birthday. He graduated from Carol City High School, then moved on to the University of Central Florida, then Delaware State, where he played running back.

After graduating in 2009 with a degree in psychology, he moved back to live with Fort and her mother in Miami and to help take care of his only child, a son also named Christopher. Through the years, Fort said, Strother coached his son in Optimist football and began making rap videos, where he went under the moniker “Stro Corleone.”

In January, according to Fort, her son landed his dream job as a social worker for Community Action & Human Services in Coconut Grove.

Fort said her son was killed after Williams began arguing with him about a car break-in that happened in January. She said that Strother’s car was broken into two months ago and that a friend told her son that Williams had done it.

Fort said Strother had brought his son home from football practice to his mom’s apartment three weeks ago, when Williams confronted him only steps from the front door of the apartment.

“Chris was never a violent person,” Fort said. “He got out of the car because his girlfriend needed something. Chris knew the guy. They were friends. All over something petty.”

The day after Strother was murdered would have been his 31st birthday.

State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, explains the need for her "witness protection bill," which would shield the identities of murder witnesses for two years after the crime. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

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