Sean D. Gibbs liked to take the back roads, and in the early hours of Aug. 18 that probably cost him his life.

Prosecutors said Antonio Thelen, 32, shot and killed Gibbs after Gibbs did nothing more than drive by a house in the 200 block of Forbes Avenue in St. Paul, where Thelen and others were partying. Defense attorneys said the shooter was Joshua Hanes, 19, who was riding with Thelen that night.

After a day and a half of deliberations, a Ramsey County jury on Tuesday night convicted Thelen of two counts of second-degree murder. District Judge J. Thomas Mott set sentencing for May 29.

Some members of Thelen's family choked back tears and others sobbed as they left the courtroom after the verdict was read. Gibbs' family members cried, too, but they were tears of relief and long-held grief.

"Justice was served," Gibbs' mother, Beatrice Brown, said. "It won't bring back my son. ... I hope he [Thelen] dreams about Sean."

Brown added that her only son had a 3-year-old son of his own and three stepdaughters.

A snapshot of Gibbs with his arm slung around his younger sister's shoulders was projected onto a screen as Assistant County Attorney Jill Gerber began her closing argument Monday morning. "It was a senseless act," Gerber said of the shooting. "And all for what?"

According to testimony, Gibbs planned to meet up with his cousin Donald Williams the night of Aug. 17. But a series of missed connections left Gibbs and his on-again, off-again girlfriend driving around St. Paul "pretty much all night," prosecutor Dan Vlieger said.

It was after 4 a.m. when Gibbs and Brianna Coulter headed toward Interstate Hwy. 35E. Along the way they drove past 288 Forbes and noticed a group of people drinking and smoking marijuana.

Thelen, testifying on his own behalf, said he followed Gibbs' car because it was "lurking."

"I just was going to see who was in the vehicle," Thelen said. "That's what my intentions were."

Thelen said he did not know Gibbs.

Gibbs stopped at a red light on Smith Avenue and Kellogg Blvd., and Thelen pulled up next to him. Hanes testified that he was asleep in the passenger seat and awoke to Thelen shaking him and telling him to "watch my back."

The three men got out. Hanes testified he was still getting his bearings when he heard two or three shots and saw Gibbs fall.

Hanes was arrested on Aug. 21, Thelen on Aug. 22. Both initially told police they knew nothing about the shooting.

But on Feb. 1, Hanes told St. Paul police Sgt. Tom Bergren that "Tony's people" were pressuring Hanes to "take the rap for it," according to a taped interview played in court.

"I'm not going to take the rap for something I didn't do," Hanes said.

Hanes pleaded guilty last month to aiding an offender. He agreed to testify against Thelen in exchange for being conditionally released between the trial and his own May 15 sentencing.

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551