Lee-Seales accepts plea deal in midst of murder trial

Shaquan Seales is arraigned on murder charges at GA 10 in New London on Monday, June 6, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Shaquan Seales is arraigned on murder charges at GA 10 in New London on Monday, June 6, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)

The murder trial of Shaquan Lee-Seales ended Thursday when the 23-year-old New London man pleaded guilty in Superior Court to reduced charges that carry a 15-year prison sentence.

Lee-Seales was on trial in the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Gilberto Olivencia while gunning for another man on Grand Street on Dec. 10, 2015. In taking the case to a jury trial, he had rejected an offer from the prosecution to plead guilty in exchange for a 35-year prison sentence. The state resumed plea negotiations Thursday and offered Lee-Seales a better deal as the prosecution prepared to start calling civilian eyewitnesses to testify, including two men involved in a drug dispute with Lee-Seales that police said had motivated the shooting.

Gilberto Olivencia's mother, Lorraine Badilla, and other family members were so distraught when prosecutors met with them to explain the plea deal that they declined to go into the courtroom to hear Lee-Seales say he was guilty of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm and third-degree robbery. The victim's family will have the opportunity to speak at Lee-Seales' March 29 sentencing hearing.

Lee-Seales' family members also were upset, since they had expressed hope during the trial that he would be acquitted and released from prison. Some of them cried during the plea hearing. They told him, "We love you, Shay," as a marshal led him back into the courthouse holding area.

The jury had heard two days of testimony from first responders and was about to hear from civilian witnesses when plea negotiations resumed. The state's next witness was to be Jobsam Pena, who was 17 when the shooting occurred and who reluctantly testified at an earlier hearing that he had witnessed the shooting. Also expected to be called was Mark Looknanan, who the state said was the intended target of the shooting.

"As the trial progressed, we had an opportunity to sit down and meet again with and examine the testimony of the upcoming witnesses and the evidence they would be providing," prosecutor Paul J. Narducci said. "We carefully considered the strengths and weaknesses of that evidence and felt that under all of the circumstances, it would be appropriate to reach a disposition that ensured a conviction. While we realize no one on either side is happy with this result, we felt that under all the circumstances, the disposition we reached was fair and appropriate."

The state's offer, accepted by Lee-Seales, was for 25 years in prison, suspended after 15 years served, followed by five years of probation. Should he violate the conditions of his probation following his release, Lee-Seales could be sent back to prison for the full 25 years.

Lee-Seales' attorney, Sebastian O. DeSantis, was expected to vigorously cross-examine the eyewitnesses in an effort to call their credibility into question.

"My client is not happy with the outcome, but it avoids the inherent risk of going to trial and not knowing the outcome," DeSantis said of the plea agreement.  

Lee-Seales was allowed to enter his guilty plea under the Alford Doctrine, which indicates he disagreed with some of the facts alleged by the prosecutor, but didn't want to risk a harsher sentence if convicted at trial.

According to police, Lee-Seales got out of a car and fired multiple shots toward Olivencia and several others following an earlier dispute at an apartment complex at 93 State Pier Road in which Lee-Seales assaulted and robbed Pena. 

Ten days after the homicide, in a videotaped interview with city police Detectives William Pero and Richard Curcuro, Pena said he had been selling drugs at the housing complex for Looknanan when he received a phone call from Lee-Seales.

He said Lee-Seales, also a drug dealer, requested an amount of narcotics, but they disagreed about where to meet. He said his employer called him later and told him not to be disrespectful and to "take care of business with Shay." 

Pena said he met Lee-Seales and two others in the driveway of the State Pier Road apartment complex. One of the men was holding a gun, he said, and Lee-Seales rushed him, punched him and knocked him to the ground, where he continued kicking him then took from his pants pocket money, drugs and a cellphone he used for drug transactions.

He said Lee-Seales and the others ran down the driveway and left in a white sport utility vehicle. Police obtained surveillance video of the incident, some of which was shown to jurors on Wednesday.

Looknanan told police that after learning of the robbery, he planned to attack Lee-Seales, who eluded him, and that they exchanged insults over the phone.

He, too, said he was standing on Grand Street when Lee-Seales got out of a white SUV and began firing in his direction. He said Olivencia had been standing on the sidewalk and was backing up when the shooting started.

Police received several reports of shots fired in the area of Connecticut Avenue and Grand Street shortly before 11 p.m. on Dec. 10.

When they arrived, Olivencia was lying on the front porch of Looknanan's home at 8 Grand St., gasping for breath, with a large amount of blood on his shirt. He was unable to answer questions about who shot him.

Olivencia was pronounced dead at 12:43 a.m. at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. He was the father of three children.

The state Office of Chief Medical Examiner determined Olivencia died of a gunshot wound and that the bullet entered into his back and exited his right upper chest.

Lee-Seales was arrested six months later, in June 2016, when police said they found him in possession of a 9 mm handgun on Spring Street. He subsequently was served with a warrant charging him with Olivencia's murder.

k.florin@theday.com

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