Saturday, August 18, 2007

Attorneys to consider death penalty in turnpike killings

By Megan V. Winslow (Contact)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Attorneys for two men suspected of killing the Escobedo family will meet with the U.S. Attorney's Office on Monday to persuade federal prosecutors against pursuing the death penalty, they said Friday.

R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, will then make a recommendation about defendants Ricardo Sanchez Jr., 23, and Daniel Troya, 24, to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will make the final decision on whether to seek the death penalty.

About 20 percent of federal cases in which defendants are charged with crimes that could qualify for the death penalty are ultimately certified by U.S. Attorneys as death penalty cases, said U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley during the Friday court hearing.

The evaluation process is expected to take between three and six months but could potentially push the defendants' tentative February trial date back, he said.

In April, Sanchez and Troya and pleaded not guilty to drug charges and armed carjacking resulting in death and using a firearm in a crime of violence resulting in death for the Oct. 13 shooting deaths of Greenacres residents Jose and Yessica Escobedo and their sons, Luis Damien, 4, and Luis Julian, 3. The Escobedos' bodies were found on the side of Florida's Turnpike in Port St. Lucie.

Four other individuals face drug charges and up to life in prison in connection with Jose Escobedo's alleged drug ring, but as with most of the prior hearings, none of the six defendants appeared in court Friday.

That could change in the future.

With the exception of Liana Lopez — who was moved to the St. Lucie County Jail because deputies say she violated a no-contact order between co-defendants — the defendants are being housed in Miami, and Hurley questioned whether they should be temporarily transported to the Palm Beach County Jail for future hearings.

The attorneys plan to meet for another status hearing in October.

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