When police first brought Sean Condell in for questioning, he said he did nothing more than play the lookout for a gang that ambushed a North Miami-Dade home.
When a detective grilled him a second time, however, Condell confessed to killing a mother and her seven-year-old son in a blaze of gunfire at the boy’s birthday party during the botched home invasion.
“The only thing that was going through my mind was they would point me out as a robber, as a burglar,” Condell told the Miami-Dade detective, explaining why he shot Carla Queely and the birthday boy, Chaquone, more than 11 years ago so they would not be able to identify him.
For a dozen Miami-Dade Circuit Court jurors who sat through the two-week trial, that was probably all it took to convict Condell Thursday of first-degree murder and related crimes in the two brutal deaths. Now, the 34-year-old could get the death penalty sought by Miami-Dade prosecutors if the jurors unanimously recommend to Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer to end his life in the penalty phase starting May 9. The alternative would be life without parole.
Several family members who attended the trial said they want Condell, who showed no emotion while the verdicts were read, to be sent to Florida's Death Row because of the execution-style murders of the mother and her young son.
"I'm very relieved that he will finally be paying a price for his crime," said Queely's cousin, Ann Maynard, who was wounded by another shooter in the home invasion during the birthday party. "I was not fond of the death penalty, but I think he deserves to feel the same pain they felt when he killed them."
Condell and four other men zeroed in on the North Miami-Dade home because they mistakenly believed there was a safe full of cash inside. They thought a man named “Haitian Pete” was the boyfriend of the homeowner and kept his drug money there.
On that Saturday in October 2006, Queely and her son were not the only shooting victims. Queely’s cousins — Shantara and Ann Maynard, along with Shantara’s two children — were shot point-blank in the head but survived a bloody ambush that spurred a massive police manhunt for the killers.
Condell’s partner, Jose Estache, 37, who is charged with shooting the two Maynard sisters and two children, will be tried separately by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.
Three other defendants charged in the robbery attempt — Rayon Samuels, Bjon Lee and Damian Lewis — pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received 20-year prison sentences. The trial testimony of Samuels and Lee was critical for two reasons: Samuels was the getaway driver for Estache and Condell, and Lee fingered Condell, his half brother, for the shooting of Queely and her son during questioning by Miami-Dade police.
The initial police confusion over who was in the home in the 20500 block of Northeast Ninth Place at the time of the Oct. 14, 2006, shooting massacre provided Condell’s defense team with fodder to suggest that Estache and Samuels were the shooters, not Condell.
One witness, an off-duty police officer driving in the neighborhood, mistakenly identified Samuels as one of the two shooters who fled the home. A second witness, homeowner Ann Maynard, identified Estache as one of the shooters inside her residence but she could not describe the other man.
Defense attorney Richard Houlihan tried to raise reasonable doubt about the initial confusion, saying “Rayon Samuels and Jose Estache are the ones that go into the house,” while his client, Condell, pulled out of the robbery caper before it happened. During closing arguments on Wednesday, he said Estache wounded the two Maynard sisters and the two children as they tried to escape the home, while Samuels killed Queely and her “little boy.”
But Houlihan, who worked on the defense with attorney Bruce Fleisher, could not overcome the most compelling evidence in the death-penalty case: Miami-Dade police eventually realized the off-duty cop’s ID of Samuels as he supposedly fled the home was wrong. The person he saw running from the house was Estache.
Assistant State Attorney David Gilbert said the confusion over the second shooter in the house was cleared up when Condell changed his story after his brother, Lee, gave him up. He also testified at trial.
Gilbert showed a transcript image to the jurors of a critical part of Condell’s police confession during closing arguments. His own words did him in as he described shooting the mother and son at the birthday party. Both were crying as they lay on the living room floor. The boy was wearing a Spider-Man costume.
“Why did you shoot the two people in the house?” a Miami-Dade police detective asked Condell about one month after the robbery ambush.
“I shoot as I was running out because I figured that I didn’t go in there with nothing and I was left behind,” he said. “They saw me.”