TAMPA — Michael Edward Keetley has spent the last 2,756 days in the Falkenburg Road Jail awaiting trial — and a possible death sentence if convicted — for a Ruskin shooting spree that killed two men.
Now he might go home.
A judge this week approved Keetley’s request to set bail after his attorney highlighted weaknesses in the state’s case, including imprecise ballistic evidence and questionable eyewitness identification.
"But for that identification, this is a circumstantial case," defense attorney Lyann Goudie said in court.
Circuit Judge Samantha Ward heard arguments May 31 over the strength of the evidence against Keetley, an ice cream truck driver who once worked the neighborhoods of southeast Hillsborough County.
In an order issued Monday, Ward set bail at $900,000.
The judge wrote that while the state’s evidence might be enough to find Keetley guilty, it is "rendered doubtful by substantial contradictions and discrepancies." Proof of his guilt, Ward wrote, "is not stronger than beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the legal standard to justify pretrial detention.
If Keetley, 47, secures bonds for the full amount, he will be placed on house arrest while the prosecution continues. He remained in jail Tuesday.
He has spent most of his nearly eight years of incarceration in isolation. Until recently, he was confined to a cell 23 hours a day.
The conditions of his lengthy detention amount to cruel and unusual punishment, his attorney said. The Florida Constitution says a defendant can only be held without bail if "proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great."
Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner asserted in court that the evidence against Keetley is strong.
It includes more than one surviving victim who picked Keetley out of photo lineups. It also includes witnesses who told authorities Keetley was on a mission to find the people who had robbed and shot him months before the murders.
"This is a vengeance killing," Pruner said. "These men died for no other reason than they were there and this man thought they had harmed him in the past."
Keetley remains charged with the fatal 2010 shootings of Juan and Sergio Guitron, and the attempted murders of four other men.
Paz Quezada, the mother of the Guitron brothers, tearfully implored the judge not to give Keetley a chance at liberty. She called him a danger to the community.
"I would not like for other people to suffer what I’m suffering," she said. "He destroyed my life."
The shootings happened as the six victims chatted on the porch of a Ruskin home early Thanksgiving morning. While they drank beer, played cards and ate peanuts, a man pulled up in a dark van. The survivors said he wore a shirt that read "sheriff." He carried what was described as a shotgun.
He asked the group if they knew someone named "Creeper." He then demanded that they get down. As the six men fell to their knees, five were shot. The gunman drove off.
A few days later, Hillsborough sheriff’s detectives arrested Keetley. He had been the victim of a robbery months earlier while selling frozen treats on his ice cream truck route. The robbers shot him in the chest, leg, shoulder and hand. They got away with $12. The wounds impaired his hand movements and made him walk with a limp.
Sheriff’s officials said Keetley told multiple people he had heard a man named "Creeper" was responsible for the robbery. A notebook detectives found in his house contained the name "Creeper" and an address on Ocean Mist Court, across the street from where the shootings occurred. A man known as "Creep" did live there. But he had nothing to do with the robbery.
Key to the state’s case were bullet shell casings and projectiles recovered from the shooting scene. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms expert said the items were fired from a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
Keetley admitted he owned several guns, including a Glock .45 that investigators never found.
But in a search of the Wimauma property where Keetley lived with his parents, they did find a spent .45 shell casing and a bullet-riddled minivan with several .45-caliber projectiles. They collected several more spent .45 shell casings from a couple who said they had practiced shooting with Keetley on his property.
Some of the casings were fired from the same weapon used in the murders, an FDLE expert said. But the same expert concluded that the gun that fired those rounds could not have been a Glock.
"This physical evidence is a puzzle," Goudie said. "And it’s a puzzle that nobody can make any sense out of."
In court, Pruner suggested the gun could have been modified with an "after-market barrel," a device that would make a pistol appear like a shotgun or rifle.
But Goudie said there is no evidence that Keetley ever purchased or used such an item.
Also central to the state’s case were two surviving victims who fingered Keetley as the shooter in separate photo lineups. Neither man identified Keetley as the gunman at first, though both had seen him selling ice cream, Goudie said. One had actually bought ice cream from him. But neither initially mentioned the "ice cream truck man," nor did they say the shooter looked familiar.
It wasn’t until after a mass text message circulated among friends of the victims that the witnesses picked Keetley out of lineups, Goudie said. The text included a picture of Keetley and alleged he was the one who killed the Guitrons.
Goudie cast further doubt on the eyewitness accounts by pointing out the victims had been drinking and some smoked marijuana the night of the shootings. Some had also snorted cocaine, she said. It was dark that night. The witnesses only got a brief look at the shooter. None initially said he walked with a limp or looked like he had problems with his hands.
Pending litigation means the case won’t go to trial anytime soon.