Sunday, November 18, 2007
By Derek Simmonsen
Friday, November 16, 2007
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Local prosecutors want to seek the death penalty for two men accused of gunning down a family of four in Port St. Lucie last year, but the final decision rests with the U.S. Attorney General.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida has already reviewed the case and recommended execution. Now it's up to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was sworn into office Wednesday and must approve any federal death penalty prosecution.
Mukasey is expected to decide in the next two to three months on whether to approve seeking the death penalty in the case.
"He has a significant backlog of matters," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Carlton said. "We have been advised it will be at least two months."
The Attorney General personally reviews each case and makes a decision on whether to seek death after getting recommendations from a committee, Carlton said.
The trial, which was set for February, has now been postponed and a new date is not set. The prosecution and defense will meet again in 60 days if the Attorney General has made his decision; otherwise they will meet again in 90 days to talk about a new trial date.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley noted that some federal judges have given the Department of Justice a deadline on when to announce a decision, as it has sometimes taken up to a year. The attorneys agreed that wasn't necessary at this point.
In April, Ricardo Sanchez, 24, and Daniel Troya, 24, pleaded not guilty to drug charges and armed carjacking resulting in death and using a firearm in a violent crime resulting in death for the Oct. 13, 2006 shooting deaths of Greenacres residents Jose and Yessica Escobedo and their sons, Luis Damien, 4, and Luis Julian, 3. Their bodies were found on the side of the turnpike in Port St. Lucie. Defense attorneys for the suspects went to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Defense attorney James Eisenberg, who represents Troya, said the attorneys are moving forward with the idea that the death penalty will be on the table. If so, he expects the trial to possibly occur in the fall of 2008. If the death penalty is taken away as an option, the trial could occur sooner.
Four other individuals face drug charges and up to life in prison in connection with Jose Escobedo's alleged drug ring. On Oct. 31, defendant Kevin Vetere pleaded guilty to the charges against him. He was indicted on a charge of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18.