Joseph Keeler, left, is serving a life sentence for the 2008 murder of his wife. Sylvester David Carew is spending the rest of his life in prison for the death of his 4-year-old granddaughter.
LARGO – The accused in two murder trials were convicted and sentenced to life in jail on consecutive days in Pinellas County courts Feb. 7 and 8.
The convictions stem from separate Largo police investigations that began in August 2008. The convicted were family to their victim.
A 44-year-old Largo man will be locked up for the murder of his 76-year-old wife. The grandfather of a 4-year-old girl, who was beaten and died of starvation, is the first of two adults Largo investigators pinned for the child’s death.
A younger husband found guilty
In the first case, Joseph Keeler was found guilty of murdering his wife, Rita Lisa, in their home at the Blue Skies mobile home park. The 76-year-old woman was found dead with multiple lacerations to her head and neck and multiple skull fractures Aug. 6, 2008.
Keeler went to his neighbor’s home earlier that day to report that his wife was dead. According to police statements at the time, Keeler said he told a detective that he was responsible for her death.
Blood from the scene linked Keeler to Rita’s death, and detectives disproved several of his statements. He was arrested the following day.
Keeler’s jury trial began Feb. 5 and concluded after only three days, according to court documents. The jury found him guilty, and the judge’s sentence was immediate: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“This conviction was the direct result of the hard work of countless members of this agency,” Detective Scott Gore, the primary investigator in the case, stated in an email announcing the conviction.
A grandfather convicted
Zineah Johnson, 4, was taken to Northside Hospital Aug. 16, 2008. She died at the hospital shortly thereafter, with “obvious signs of abuse and malnutrition,” Largo police recently explained.
The caregivers who brought her to the hospital – namely her grandfather, Sylvester David Carew, now 58, and his girlfriend, Nikki Tyler Gardner-Bradley, now 43 – were arrested on Nov. 24 that year.
The investigation had revealed that while Zineah was beaten regularly, she died of starvation. The Pinellas County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide on Oct. 22, 2008.
While Largo Detective Laura Young was able to establish probable cause to charge the two with first-degree murder, the help of the U.S. Marshal’s Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force was needed to eventually find them in Hillsborough County.
Carew’s trial had been scheduled for Oct. 14, according to court documents. However, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Feb. 8. He was sentenced that day to life in prison.
Gardner-Bradley, the second suspect in this case, is still in a psychiatric facility pending competency, Largo police reported.