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For abducted mother and daughter, a long quest for justice
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    MIAMI — Shandelle Maycock woke up disoriented and bleeding on a bed of matted grass amid endless walls of towering sugarcane stalks.
    The 22-year-old fingered a sticky gash on her right foot and winced, her eyes darting all around. Her vision was still blurry from last night’s struggle, but she could make out a strip of water and cars passing on the other side. Where had he left her?
    Lightning quick memories flashed through her head, the big man choking her, throwing her in the trunk of his car, driving for what seemed like hundreds of miles.
    Maycock stumbled to her feet and collapsed, too weak to walk. She prayed. She took a few steps and fell again.
    Her thin frame was covered in bug bites and scratches, but barefoot and groggy, she finally made it to the road. She struggled to wave her arms to get drivers’ attention.
    She had to get help.
    She kept thinking of her 5-year-old daughter, her little cherub face.
    The man had kidnapped them both. He had left Maycock for dead in the cane fields. But what had he done with her little girl?
    Where was Candy?
    ———
    Maycock liked being a receptionist, and her office wasn’t far from the small efficiency she rented. The job didn’t pay much, but she had learned how to get by on almost nothing after her family kicked her out. They’d been angry when she’d told them she was pregnant at 16 by a much older, married man.
    Maycock named her daughter Quatisha, but called her Candy from the start. Maycock had enrolled in a school for pregnant mothers and earned a high school diploma. Her job paid a meager salary, leaving nothing for extras, even a car.
    She often hitched a ride from someone to pick up Candy from a caretaker’s house. Lately it was Harrel Braddy, a nice man she’d met through a friend. She sometimes went to church with his wife. The 49-year-old also gave her rides to the store or the Laundromat.
    But sometimes he showed up at her home unannounced. Once, Braddy had playfully put his hand between her legs during a visit. She pulled a knife and he’d apologized, swearing it would never happen again. So Maycock had forgiven him. That was that, she thought.
    Then, unexpectedly one Friday night, he pulled into her driveway, saying he had to talk to her. Candy slept as Maycock cleaned up around the house, hoping Braddy would leave soon. It had been a long week and she wanted some time alone. Finally, she asked him to leave, lying that she was expecting company.
    Braddy bolted from the chair, grabbing Maycock in a chokehold. He pinned her to the floor and tightened his grip around her neck.
    She tried to fight back, kicking and scratching at him — but Braddy’s steel grip wouldn’t release. He was more than 6 feet tall, and the past 13 years of lifting weights in prison had given his forearms and biceps machine-like strength.
    ———
    The car was speeding along when Maycock awoke in the back seat. She rubbed her throbbing neck and saw Candy sitting in the front next to Braddy. She was awake and quiet. Her face was afraid.
    Maybe he’ll just let us go, Maycock thought. But she worried he had other plans.
    Braddy had been so enraged, so violent. She didn’t know he had only been out of prison for about 17 months; he’d served time for charges including attempted murder and armed robbery.
    Maycock had been certain Braddy was going to kill her on the floor of her home. Now she feared he was planning to kill her somewhere else. And maybe her daughter.
    They had to escape.
    She glanced out the window. They weren’t far from her neighborhood. It was after 11, and the road was almost empty.
    Maycock reached into the front seat and grabbed Candy’s arm, struggling to pull the little girl onto her lap.
    She whispered her plan: They were going to jump.
    ‘‘Don’t do it,’’ Braddy warned and pressed on the accelerator.
    ‘‘Mommy, Mommy. No,’’ Candy cried.
    ‘‘Shh. It’s OK,’’ Maycock said, clutching her daughter to her chest and opening the door. Candy’s protests rang in her ears as they lunged forward.
    She tried to hang on to Candy, but the impact was hard. They flew apart.
    On the median, blood trickled from a deep gash on Maycock’s right foot, and her collarbone ached.
    ‘‘Mommy, Mommy,’’ Candy cried and limped toward her.
    But Braddy stopped the car and ran back to them, hustling Candy to the front seat again. He grabbed Maycock roughly by the arm and shoved her toward the back door, then suddenly changed his mind.
    Instead, he opened the trunk and forced her inside.
    She heard Braddy tell Candy, ‘‘I’m gonna take y’all home.’’
    In the trunk’s blackness as the car began to move, she prayed that might be true. God, please don’t let me die, she said. Please keep my daughter safe. Please God.
    A long ride on a highway followed, and then the car lurched to a stop.
    ‘‘Why are you doing this,’’ Maycock sobbed as Braddy opened the trunk.
    ‘‘You used me,’’ he said.
    ‘‘No, I just needed a ride.’’
    ‘‘I should kill you,’’ Braddy yelled, throwing her on the ground. Then he wrapped his big bear hands around her neck again and choked her until she stopped moving.
    Now he had to figure out what to do with the child. The little girl could identify him.
    ———
    An avid hunter and fishermen, Braddy was familiar with The Everglades. He knew about its gators, brown water snakes and snail kites, and how they could make a body disappear.
    He sped toward the highway called Alligator Alley.
    He’d laid brick on a toll plaza there. Just west of the toll were bridges that dipped right into the gator-infested waters. They were sure to be deserted this time of night.
    When Braddy stopped at the bridge near Mile Marker 34, a choir of crickets and frogs roared like an airplane engine. Fish plopped in the water. Lily pads rustled.
    Something was lurking there.
    Braddy threw Candy onto the rocks with a thud.
    As he drove away, the child — her skull fractured — lay bleeding and alone, unconscious but still alive.
    ———
    Less than twenty-four hours later, Harrel Braddy was in police custody. Across the barren interrogation room, the homicide detectives stared at him and he stared back. It had been a long night already.
    Braddy broke the silence this time.
    ‘‘Moses was an adulterer and John who was Jesus’ relative was a murderer,’’ he said. ‘‘But that didn’t make them bad men.’’
    Braddy denied he had picked up Shandelle and Candy Maycock the previous night.
    Detective Fernando Suco stood mute. His mind raged with questions: Was Candy Maycock still alive? How long could a 5-year-old survive on her own?
    Suco is stocky and bald with a big heart, straight out of a TV crime series. Through the night, he and Detective Otis Chambers had taken turns, pumping the suspect with questions, getting no answers. Braddy rested his head on the table during breaks.
    But he held to his story. He’d been home all night. His family was out.
    But other Miami-Dade detectives had talked to Cyteria Braddy and their stories didn’t match. She and the children had been home all night. Her husband was the one missing.
    Strange noises coming from the carport had woken her before dawn, she said. Her husband was cleaning a rented car. The washing machine was humming.
    Another officer had driven a few hours north to the hospital where a disoriented Shandelle Maycock was recovering. She told him what Braddy had done.
    Nearly 50 searchers were now swarming the area where he’d left her — the cane fields and an adjacent dirt road and drainage canal — confident that Candy had to be somewhere nearby.
    But the little girl was in a different county, miles away.
    Suco and his crew were exhausted. They headed to McDonald’s for breakfast, leaving Braddy alone in the room.
    Fourteen years earlier, Braddy had choked a Miami-Dade courthouse guard, fracturing the man’s larynx. He’d handcuffed the guard to a holding cell, then bolted. Captured, he’d disarmed two deputies at the hospital where they took him and he escaped again. He was gone for more than a month before being caught in Georgia.
    Now, Braddy stood on the chair, his shoes off. He pressed his hands against the air conditioning grate.
    He’d bent the metal grate nearly in half when Suco swung the door open. Braddy jumped to the floor.
    Busted.
    ‘‘I’ll take you to her,’’ Braddy said.
    ———
    Now among the searchers at the cane field, Braddy swore again he’d left the girl here with her mother. ‘‘I could see her in my headlights when I was pulling away,’’ Braddy said.
    Investigators worked on Braddy, but nothing brought the truth. Hours passed.
    Finally Detective Pat Diaz took over, sharing part of his sandwich with Braddy.
    ‘‘I’ve been down this road before,’’ he told Braddy, remembering another missing child case. ‘‘She’s not here, is she?’’
    There was no telling why Braddy finally decided to tell the truth.
    ‘‘No, she’s not,’’ Braddy said. He’d left Candy Maycock in the swamp off Alligator Alley.
    It was now late afternoon. The little girl had been missing for nearly 40 hours.
    ———
    The unmarked patrol car swept past the toll plaza on Alligator Alley, stopping near Mile Marker 34.
    ‘‘Check under the lily pads. I left her out here. She was alive,’’ Braddy said.
    But he had not left the girl at the bridge but off a boat ramp about half a mile away.
    ‘‘I truly believe he was trying to give enough time so the little girl would disappear,’’ Suco said. ‘‘In his mind, no body, no charges’’
    The search spanned several miles before investigators had to quit for the night. Canine units, divers and helicopters would be mobilized in the morning.
    But they didn’t need to: Around 7 a.m. they got a call.
    A fisherman had found Candy’s body floating in the water.
    ———
    Shandelle Maycock sobbed on her bed, tears streaking past cuts on her face.
    Her only child gone.
    ‘‘I want justice for us,’’ she said then. But justice would take nearly nine years.
    Braddy slowed the legal process — by firing lawyer after lawyer, then representing himself, then back to lawyers.
    He finally walked into court for trial this July.
    Called to testify, Maycock sobbed when asked how old her daughter was. Recounting the night for the jury, she felt a familiar ache creeping through her collarbone. She remembered his big hands wrapped around her neck.
    The jury deliberated just two hours before finding Braddy guilty of seven charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and kidnapping. A judge sentenced him to death this week.
    ———
    Today, a collage of Candy is the only decoration on the bare white walls of the room Maycock rents: Photos of the little girl getting a bath, dressed in a bunny suit for Halloween, smiling for her school picture. A beige funeral program is positioned in the middle.
    ‘‘I have to talk to a tombstone,’’ says Maycock. ‘‘I can’t ever see her smile. She can’t ever give me grandkids.’’
    She hasn’t married, but dreams of having a family. She always wanted three children.
    ‘‘He took away the only person that I knew really loved me besides God.’’
    ———
    EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is based on interviews with Shandelle Maycock, Detectives Greg Smith and Fernando Suco and Assistant State Attorney Abbe Rifkin; and on court comments and testimony.

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