It has been nine long years since Rayon Samuels drove his pals to rob a North Miami-Dade house — a crime that ended in the execution-style murder of a mother, her 7-year-old son and the wounding of four others at birthday party.
Even after he detailed the crime in a closed-door session with prosecutors, then pleaded guilty Monday, Samuels had little explanation for his actions.
“I got caught up,” the shackled Samuels said quietly, rubbing his hands, shaking his head.
Samuels was 20 at the time. “You were old enough to know better,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer said.
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“My momma always told me knowing better and doing better were two different things,” Samuels admitted.
For now, at least, Samuels did the right thing in pleading guilty Monday to his role in the mass shooting that claimed the life of Carla Queely and her son, Chaquone, during the boy’s Spider-Man-themed birthday party in October 2006.
Two women and two other children — shot point-blank in the head — survived a horrific ambush that spurred a massive police manhunt for the killers.
Samuels agreed to serve 20 years in prison and testify against his cohorts. One of them, accused shooter Sean Condell, 31, is facing the death penalty as jury selection is supposed to begin this week in his trial for murder.
In all, Miami-Dade police detectives arrested five men they believe targeted Queely’s home on in the 20500 block of Northeast Ninth Place. They mistakenly believed that there was a safe full of cash inside the home.
While the three other would-be robbers were outside the house that day, police say Condell and Jose Estache, 34, broke into the home armed with three guns, flex cuffs and gloves.
The men “demanded to know where the safe was while holding three of the victims at gunpoint,” according to an arrest report.
More guests showed up. Prosecutors believe Estache shot and wounded sisters Ann and Shantara Maynard, and Shantara’s children, Tony Chester, then 4, and Shantaria Kearse, then 7.
Tony lost his right eye in the attack, while Shantaria suffered brain damage.
Authorities said Condell killed Queely and her son. He later told police he murdered them so they could not identify him.
That Samuels pleaded guilty was no surprise. Another driver, Bjon Lee, 26, two years ago pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to 20 years in prison in exchange for his cooperation.
The third suspected robber, Damian Lewis, who also never entered the home or fired a gun, has also been offered the same plea deal. Lewis, 35, rejected the deal and faces up to life in prison if convicted at trial.
As for Samuels, 29, he initially asked for more time to consider the deal offered by prosecutors. With the case dragging on for years, Judge Venzer — who called the facts of the killings “pretty darn gruesome” — on Monday refused to delay the case any more.
“You are looking at life. Life means every breath behinds bars until the moment you stop breathing,” Venzer said.
Under Florida law, anyone who participates in a violent felony — in this case, armed robbery — that leads to a killing can be found guilty of murder. After prosecutors took a one-hour statement from Samuels, he finally pleaded guilty to a host of felonies.
The judge urged him to earn his high school diploma while behind bars.
“Take the time and use it wisely,” Venzer said.