LAKELAND, FL (AP) – Two Lakeland families finally have a sense of closure now that a grand jury indicted a man on two unsolved murders from 2013.
Benjamin Smiley, 22, of Tampa, is now labeled the trigger-man behind the deaths of two people their families struggle to live without. Shelia Drake didn’t lose hope the moment would come that the person who shot and killed her husband Cliffton was caught.
“It’s a good day for me today, it is a blessing,” Drake said at a Lakeland Police Department news conference Friday.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Drake said, crying.
Cliffton Drake’s murder fell just weeks after 45-year-old Carmen Riley struggled with a gunman wanting money from the snack business inside her home. He killed her and got away. Detectives now believe Smiley is the one who pulled the trigger both times in the spring of 2013.
Police credit a concerned citizen for getting the ball rolling toward finding the alleged killer.
“An individual in the community who found some property in the back of his truck that he knew wasn’t his, thought it was suspicious and called police,” Lakeland Police Sgt. Jeff Birdwell said.
What ultimately sealed the deal was DNA taken from Smiley’s felony arrest in Hillsborough County this year that matched what was collected at the Lakeland murders.
“It took them a long time but they finally got him and he can rest in peace now they got his murderer,” neighbor Louise Peaker said.
Time hasn’t eased the hurt the victims’ families feel every day.
“That was a man that God sent to me and that’s a man that God sent home,” Shelia Drake said of her late husband.
“She never bothered anybody,” Maria Brooks said of Carmen Riley.
Now that they can put a face and name with the crimes, Drake’s family said their focus now is justice.
“I don’t have words for him. He totally ruined two families’ lives. And he’s going to get what’s coming to him- we will be there every step of the way,” Brooks said.
Benjamin Smiley is already behind bars, serving six years for an armed robbery in Hillsborough County.
Among others charges, he’s now faced with two counts of first degree murder.