Saturday, June 16, 2007

Turnpike killings case delayed

Trial date pushed back to February

By Megan V. Winslow
Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

June 16, 2007

West Palm Beach · Within two weeks the U.S. Attorney's Office will decide whether to recommend pursuing the death penalty against Ricardo Sanchez Jr. and Daniel Troya, a federal prosecutor said Friday.

The two men are charged in the shooting deaths of Greenacres residents Jose and Yessica Escobedo and their two young sons, whose bodies were found on the side of Florida's Turnpike in Port St. Lucie on Oct. 13.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez should make the final decision by Labor Day, said Steve Carlton, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.

Carlton and attorneys for the two men and four others who were indicted by a grand jury in connection with a related drug investigation met Friday morning before U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley. During the meeting, to discuss the status of the federal case, the attorneys agreed with Hurley's decision to move the tentative trial date for all six defendants from October to February.

The delay is necessary so the law is "meticulously followed" to protect the "due process rights of all parties" charged, Hurley said.

Hurley asked the appointed attorneys to establish a budget for defending the suspects with added projected costs if the death penalty is sought for Sanchez and Troya. Some of that money would pay for mitigation experts so defense attorneys could investigate Sanchez and Troya's backgrounds and argue against the death penalty.

In April, Sanchez and Troya were indicted and pleaded not guilty to drug charges, armed carjacking resulting in death and using a firearm in a crime of violence resulting in death.

According to St. Lucie County sheriff's reports, Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, and his fugitive brother ran one of the largest cocaine rings in the eastern United States. Sanchez, Troya and the other indicted suspects -- Danny Varela, Juan C. Gutierrez, Liana Lee Lopez and West Palm Beach resident Kevin Vetere -- allegedly worked with or for him.

About 2:15 a.m. Oct. 13, Sanchez and Troya allegedly had Escobedo stop his black Jeep Cherokee on the side of the turnpike in Port St. Lucie. Escobedo and his 25-year-old wife and sons Luis Damien, 4, and Luis Julian, 3, were shot 20 to 50 times before Troya, in a burgundy van, and Sanchez, in the Jeep, sped off, authorities said.

The Jeep was found three days later, abandoned in West Palm Beach. Drug ledgers in the Escobedo family's home and cell phone records eventually led detectives to the suspects, according to reports.

If convicted, Varela, Gutierrez, Lopez and Vetere all face up to life in prison. None of the defendants appeared in court Friday, but all were represented by lawyers.

Although an additional attorney specializing in death penalty cases has yet to be secured for Sanchez, West Palm Beach attorney James L. Eisenberg made an appearance as Troya's newly appointed death penalty counsel.

"With this administration, the odds are this is a death penalty case," he said after the hearing.

Unless an additional hearing is requested, the attorneys and Hurley will not meet again in court until October.

Megan Winslow can be reached at

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