One man is dead. Another, his childhood friend, is accused of firing the gunshot that killed him.
By CARRIE RITCHIE AND JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writers
Published August 5, 2007
ZEPHYRHILLS - Daniel Keller walked through his neighborhood in the early dark of a June morning. He thought he was headed toward a better life.
He thought he was meeting his ex-girlfriend. He thought they would reunite. He thought he was going to be a father.
Instead, Daniel Keller met a bullet.
The 21-year-old fell in the road -- the road he thought held so much hope -- and bled to death.
Last month, a grand jury indicted Keller's childhood friend Michael Robert Glidden, 21, on a first-degree murder charge. Glidden could face the death penalty if convicted.
And Keller's family is left to ponder what their son's life could have become.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you my son was an angel -- he wasn't," said Charles Paul Keller, Daniel's father. "But he had cleaned his life up and he was turning his life around."
Daniel Keller's first arrest was at age 15, on a charge of sexually battering a 9-year-old boy, according to records. He spent the next few years in and out of jail on a variety of charges, including burglary and forgery.
His family and friends said he used drugs, but records show he hadn't been arrested since 2005.
They said he was trying to get his life back together.
They said he was shaken by the death of his grandmother, Vivian Keller, who died of complications from cancer Jan. 15 at the age of 69. He also wanted to be a responsible dad.
"I honestly believe that if he wouldn't have been killed he would've put drugs down for his kid," said his friend Mona Jackson, with whom Daniel Keller was living for about six months before his death.
Jackson said Daniel Keller was searching for a job and talked about buying his own house and car before he died.
Part of his plan was to win back his ex-girlfriend, Tabatha Thiel, 25.
Thiel said the two met when she was 11 and Keller was 7. Before Keller died, they dated for four or five months. Thiel thought she was pregnant with his baby.
They split about three weeks before the shooting. Thiel moved in with Glidden, who lived down the street from Keller. She had previously lived with Keller in Jackson's mobile home.
Authorities and friends said Thiel and Glidden were romantically involved. Thiel, however, denied a relationship existed.
But Keller and Thiel had been talking about getting back together. They might even get married, she said, and regain custody of her four kids.
Then early June 2, Keller received some text messages. He thought they were from Thiel, authorities say, raising his hopes for reconciliation.
Only Thiel was at Glidden's house, drinking with his mother, said Thiel's mother, Lisa Smith.
Authorities think it was Glidden on the other end of the text messages, posing as Thiel to set up a rendezvous at a nearby church.
Jackson said Keller left on foot at 3 a.m.
He was found dead about 3:30 a.m. on Stewart Road.
"He said, 'I'm gonna go chill with my girl,' " Jackson said.
Weeks after Keller's death, Thiel learned she wasn't pregnant.
On June 7, Glidden drove his stepfather's Camaro to War, W.Va. -- after Pasco authorities had questioned him about Keller's death.
But people there quickly grew suspicious of Glidden.
An acquaintance called West Virginia Senior Trooper Ryan Jackson to check Glidden out. The Camaro he was driving had been reported stolen from Pasco County.
Troopers arrested Glidden June 28 and charged him with auto theft.
Glidden gave up, Jackson said, with a .38 Special stuffed in his waistband.
Jackson said he didn't say anything about the murder, but Glidden did mention wanting to start a new life.
Glidden was returned to Pasco County, and sheriff's deputies arrested him in connection with Keller's death July 9. He was read his rights, a sheriff's report said, and confessed to shooting Keller.
Glidden's motivation is clear to those who will put him on trial. They think he killed Daniel Keller over Thiel.
"The prosecution's theory is that Glidden lured the victim to this spot and then took his life," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. "It was an ambush."
Despite Glidden's arrest, Keller's death remains under investigation by the Sheriff's Office. The agency wouldn't comment on the case, or say if more arrests are expected.
Keller's parents said they're not sure what punishment they want Glidden to face. They just want him to pay.
"I just love my boy to death," Charles Keller said. "I talk to him every day, sometimes two or three times a day, and I'm still waiting for that phone call (from him).
"I'll never get it, though. I'm going to have to wait until my time comes to go to heaven and see him."
Carrie Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com.