They waited for hours, packed like sardines on wooden benches, carefully watching who walked in and who walked out of the courtroom.
One woman read a collection of the Psalms to pass time. "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers."
Another cracked her knuckles and pressed her lips together as if she was trying to bottle a scream.
Then 18-year-old Courtney Birt walked by in handcuffs and a red jump suit, nearly brushing them. He bit his lower lip just like he had in his mug shot. A woman bellowed a cry.
The mother of Lamunta Williams, the 16-year-old whom police say Birt shot and killed on March 5, leaned over and held her head in her hands. A woman behind her held Williams' picture in her hands and kissed it.
While the crowd waited inside the courtroom, the witnesses waited outside.
The witnesses in the preliminary hearing in Hamilton County General Sessions Court were all juveniles who should have been in school the day Williams was shot nine times and left dead in the living room of an abandoned house.
The witnesses' mothers stood behind them as they told the judge what they saw. They testified so softly that the whole courtroom leaned in to hear them.
They told the judge that Birt shot their friend. The group had gone to the abandoned house on Carr Street, a block up from the Howard School, that day to smoke and hang out. They knew Birt was angry at Williams. Williams had fought with the mother of Birt's child on Valentine's Day.
Birt had told several people he would kill Williams, two juveniles testified. Williams and Birt were in rival gangs, police have said.
Birt came into the house in a black sweatshirt. He argued with Williams before pulling a gun from his pocket, one teen girl testified.
"I tried to push it out of his hand," she told Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck. "He shot him in the face."
After more than an hour of testimony, the judge passed the case on to the grand jury. Birt was kept in custody without bond. Following the announcement, half the courtroom erupted in gratitude.
"Thank you Jesus," a woman yelled.
Williams' mother left the courthouse angry, hugging friends and fending reporters off.
"I want answers to my questions," she said while walking away.
Tonya Jones, Williams' aunt, was the only one who would speak for the crowd.
"I wanted to go in there and bust his head," said Jones. "I don't have nothing to say to his family. I hope someone beats him in jail.
"I'll fight the parents."
"How come you couldn't put your dukes up and fight like a man."
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...