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Survivors testify in Tampa’s ice cream man murder trial

They say the man with the long gun was looking for “Creeper,” but Michael Keetley tells detectives it wasn’t him.
Michael Keetley, a former ice cream truck driver accused of shooting a group of men in 2010 in Ruskin, sits in court during his trial. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

TAMPA — A jury could decide this week whether former ice cream man Michael Keetley is guilty of the 2010 murders of Juan and Sergio Guitron and the attempted killings of four others.

And while the jurors’ focus likely will be on ballistics and other scientific evidence, the most compelling testimony — the words of those who survived — will loom large.

The jury heard their harrowing account of the brazen shootings last week. They also heard the words of Keetley, recorded in an interview with detectives, in which he denied having anything to do with the slayings.

He maintained his innocence, as he has to this day, even as detectives confronted him with what witnesses told them and evidence they were gathering as they tried to elicit a confession.

“If they think I did it, let them prove it,” Keetley said in the interview. “Because I didn’t do it.”

Keetley, 49, is accused of two counts of first-degree murder and four counts of attempted murder in the mass shooting that occurred on Thanksgiving morning in 2010 on the front porch of a Ruskin home. Keetley was an ice cream man who worked the neighborhoods of southeast Hillsborough County in his purple ice cream truck.

Juan Guitron, 28, one of two brothers killed in a hail of gunfire that injured four other men in 2010 in Ruskin. Family photo [Handout]
Sergio Guitron, 22, killed along with his brother in 2010. Family photo [HO | Handout]
Related: Ice cream man trial opens 10 years after Ruskin porch slayings

In January 2010, someone robbed Keetley of $12 in his truck and shot him four times, leaving him permanently disabled. No one was ever arrested. The prosecution’s theory is that Keetley undertook his own investigation to exact vengeance. He came to believe that a man called “Creep” was responsible.

Daniel Beltran, one of the survivors of the Thanksgiving shooting, told the jury a group had gathered on the porch of a home on Ocean Mist Court to drink and play cards in the early morning hours.

It was after 2 a.m. when a man pulled up in a dark van and got out carrying what was described as a pump-action shotgun.

The man wore a shirt that said “sheriff” and asked for someone named “Creep,” the survivors later told investigators. He asked for everyone’s identification and made them all get down on the ground. Juan Guitron began to argue with him.

“Juan told him, ‘Hey man, chill out,'" Beltran testified. “He’s like, ‘You chill out.’ Then he shot him right in the chest. Then he pumped it again and he shot him again.”

The gunshots kept coming. Beltran still believed the man was a police officer until he stepped onto the porch. While he and the rest of the men knelt facing the house, the gunman approached Richard Cantu. He placed the gun behind Cantu’s head and pulled the trigger. Beltran was hit with blood.

“It couldn’t be a cop doing that because the guy’s not doing nothing to him and he just came and shot him in his head,” Beltran testified.

Beltran said he eyed a beer bottle. He picked it up and turned to throw it at the gunman. That’s when he was shot in the hip. As Beltran wriggled on the floor, the man aimed toward his head. He shot again and missed, then pumped the gun and shot him in the chest. Beltran fell off the porch, and was shot a third time, in his back.

On Friday, jurors heard from Gonzalo Guevara, another shooting survivor. He gave a similar account, describing how he was shot four times in the hand, chest, torso and lower back as he tried to hand over his identification.

Before he was shot, he said, he got a good look at the gunman. When he was later shown a series of photos in a hospital bed, Guevara picked a mug shot of Keetley. He cried when he saw the image. He said he was “2,000 percent sure” it was the same man.

A gunman interrupted a card game on the porch of this home at 604 Ocean Mist Court in Ruskin on Thanksgiving day in 2010. He fatally shot two people and wounded four others. Investigators charged Michael Keetley with the crimes, saying he was seeking vengeance for a robbery. [Hillsborough State Attorney's Office] [HANDOUT | State Attorney's Office]
Related: Eight years later, state drops death penalty in Ruskin double murder case

A prosecutor asked if he saw the gunman in the courtroom. Guevara pointed to Keetley, seated at a defense table in a baby blue button-down shirt and a brown sweater.

In an audio recording played for the jury, Keetley seemed nonchalant as a pair of detectives confronted him with what witnesses had said: that he’d been looking for a man named “Creep,” that he’d offered a reward to anyone who could find Creep and bring him to Keetley, that the shooting survivors had described Keetley and the van he drove “to a T.”

“I’m just telling you, it wasn’t me and it wasn’t the van,” Keetley said. “It just wasn’t.”

He alluded to the injuries he’d suffered when he’d been shot, and how they’d limited his ability to walk and move his right hand.

“What am I going to do? Hobble over there and shoot them left-handed?”

Related: Ice cream man granted bail after lawyer notes weaknesses in 2010 Ruskin murder case

After he was robbed, he said, he did want the people who hurt him to suffer. But as time went by, he said, he came not to care anymore.

“I hated those people for what they did to me,” he said. “In my gut, I would’ve loved to have seen those people dead.”

The trial is expected to last through this week. If convicted, Keetley faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.