Thursday, April 19, 2007

Turnpike slayings suspects indicted

staff writers

April 19, 2007

Ricardo Sanchez and Daniel Troya were the gunmen who killed a family of four on the side of Florida's Turnpike in Port St. Lucie last year, according to a new federal indictment made public Wednesday.

Sanchez, 23, and Troya, 23, were charged with conspiracy to commit carjacking, armed carjacking resulting in death and using a firearm during a crime of violence in the Oct. 13, 2006, deaths of Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, his wife, Yessica, 25, and their sons, Luis Damien, 4, and Luis Julian, 3.

Armed carjacking and using a gun in a crime of violence both carry the possibility of the death penalty.

There are set procedures in place for any federal case that could involve the death penalty, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Carlton said his office would follow them. A final decision on whether to actually pursue the death penalty in the case will be made by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, he said.

Sanchez and Troya — who were named "persons of interest" in the case back in October — already were indicted on federal drug charges stemming from a search warrant served at their Palm Beach County home connected to the investigation of the killings. Two other people who also were named "persons of interest" were not mentioned in the new charges describing the deaths.

According to the indictment, Sanchez made a phone call to Jose Luis Escobedo from the Port St. Lucie area between 7 and 8 p.m. on Oct. 12, the day before the bodies of the family were discovered. He made another call just before midnight from Port Orange, another near Titusville and a final call shortly before 2 a.m. Oct. 13 from Roseland, near Sebastian, the indictment states.

At about 2:18 a.m., Troya drove a burgundy van on the turnpike after getting a ticket at the Fort Pierce toll plaza. At 2:19 a.m., Sanchez called Escobedo from the Midway Road area in St. Lucie County.

At about 2:25 a.m., Sanchez and Troya had Escobedo stop his black Jeep Cherokee on the turnpike.

"Thereafter, Ricardo Sanchez and Daniel Troya brandished firearms, shot four occupants of the black Jeep Cherokee, stole the Jeep and left the area," the indictment states.

After that point, the two made numerous phone calls to each other while driving south through St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties. Between 2:19 and 3:30 a.m., Sanchez drove the stolen Escobedo Jeep to West Palm Beach, where it was abandoned, the indictment states. It was found by investigators three days after the killings.

Detectives have said they believe the killing of the Escobedo family was related to the theft of drugs, money or both, and investigators were led to the drug operation by apparent references to several of the defendants in drug ledgers found in the Escobedos' Greenacres home in Palm Beach County. Attorneys for Sanchez and Troya did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Carlton declined to say whether more charges could be pending or if the others named as "persons of interest" will be charged in connection with the killings. He also declined to elaborate on the current charges and how they were filed.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said Wednesday his office and the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office are continuing to investigate the shooting. The fact that federal charges were released in Palm Beach County "doesn't affect our ability to possibly issue our own charges, including homicide charges."

In a prepared statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said the indictment "has significantly advanced the investigation by the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office. That investigation is active and ongoing."

Mascara said investigators in his department "continue to work closely with their federal counterparts ... All of us working on this case have one goal: Justice for the victims and their families, especially the two innocent children who were murdered along with their parents on Florida's Turnpike in St. Lucie County."

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