TAMPA — It was Michael Keetley who shot six men one early morning in 2010 on the front porch of a Ruskin home, a jury decided Tuesday.
After 12 years, two trials and a second go at deliberations, which lasted 13 hours over three days, a panel of two women and 10 men convicted Keetley of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Juan and Sergio Guitron and four counts of attempted murder.
Keetley stood quietly beside his attorneys and shook his head slightly as a clerk read the word “guilty” six times. In the gallery behind him, Paz Quezada, the mother of the two murder victims, wept.
Quezada, who was a consistent presence in the courtroom in the dozen years that Keetley’s case was pending, spoke afterward through a Spanish interpreter, saying the verdict brought her a sense of peace.
“To know that he can’t hurt anyone the way he hurt my sons and my family brings me peace,” she said.
The jury’s decision bookended Hillsborough County’s longest-running criminal case, which has dogged the local legal system for more than a decade.
Keetley had been jailed 4,499 days since his arrest. Barring a successful appeal, the guilty verdict ensures he will remain incarcerated until the day he dies.
“Today is about the victims, all six of the victims,” Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez said. “It is our office’s hope and prayer that today’s verdict will begin to bring closure for the nightmare that they have all had to live for the last 12 years.”
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella set a formal sentencing date for May 26.
Keetley was 39 when he was arrested. He is 52 now.
His arrest came in December 2010 after surviving victims picked out his image as the man who pulled up in a minivan early Thanksgiving morning outside a home on a narrow street in Ruskin called Ocean Mist Court. Keetley got out what the men variously described as a pump action shotgun or a rifle and was wearing a shirt that read “sheriff.” He asked for someone named “Creeper,” a neighbor some of them knew, but who lived a few houses away. He demanded their identification, made the men kneel down, then, one by one, shot them.
The Guitron brothers, known as Magic and Spider, were killed. Severely wounded were Richard Cantu, Daniel Beltran, Ramon Galan and Gonzalo Guevara.
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Although the surviving victims were not immediately able to identify their attacker, word soon spread in the Ruskin community that it was the ice cream man.
Keetley was well-known in the area, having worked the neighborhoods selling frozen treats from his purple ice cream truck. It was also widely known that he’d been robbed several months earlier, and shot several times. He endured several surgeries and months of physical therapy. People in the Ruskin community collected donations to help him recover.
People who knew Keetley said he became frustrated with law enforcement’s investigation of his shooting. So, according to court testimony, he undertook his own investigation, eventually coming to believe that the man named “Creeper” might be involved.
Evidence assembled against him included projectiles and a bullet shell casing that investigators found at his family’s property, which an analyst said were consistent with shell casings and projectiles at the murder scene. Records from a computer investigators seized from Keetley’s home showed internet searches for terms like “ocean mist” and “creeper” and numerous terms related to firearms. Witnesses also testified that Keetley painted his family’s minivan a day after the shootings.
But the state’s case had weaknesses. Defense attorneys picked apart problems with the way the lead detective conducted photo lineups with witnesses. They also questioned the accuracy of eyewitness memories of what the shooter looked like, noting their inconsistent descriptions, how quickly the shooting occurred and how dark it was outside that morning.
In closing arguments last week, defense attorney Richard Escobar criticized an investigation that he said was marred by rumors, assumptions and leads that were ignored.
“You follow every lead because in our system of justice, we want to get the right person,” Escobar said. “We do not want to make mistakes.”
The case lingered through the tenure of three state attorneys. Complicated in its early years by the state’s pursuit of a death sentence — which prosecutors later abandoned — and complex legal questions over who should handle Keetley’s defense, the case finally reached trial in February 2020.
But a jury then was unable to render a verdict. It was later reported in court records that the first jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of finding Keetley not guilty.
Jury selection in the second trial began in late February, with testimony and arguments spanning a month. As the panel listened to a complex case, prosecutors defended the steps investigators took.
Law enforcement “didn’t follow assumptions,” Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty said in closing arguments. “They followed the evidence.”