Saturday, April 5, 2008

Defense: Evidence in turnpike murder case withheld


Federal prosecutors are withholding a crucial 911 call that may establish that two men facing possible execution for the murders of the Escobedo family along Florida's Turnpike were 50 miles away at the time of the shooting, a defense lawyer contends.
Attorney Donnie Murrell, who represents Ricardo Sanchez Jr., outlined the call in a motion filed Thursday that asks U.S. District Court Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley to order prosecutors to turn over the recording.

''It is hard to imagine a more clear example of exculpatory evidence,'' Murrell wrote. ``According to four government fingerprint examiners, Ricardo Sanchez handed in a toll ticket at 3:02 a.m. According to the FHP [Florida Highway Patrol] 911 tape, the murder happened nine minutes later, 50 miles north.''

Another man facing the death penalty, Daniel Troya, exited the turnpike along with Sanchez, prosecutors have said. The purported 911 call also could sow doubt about the location of Troya at the time of the shooting.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton, a lead prosecutor in the case, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Troya and Sanchez have been cast by prosecutors as the gunmen in the October 2006 slayings of Jose Luis Escobedo, 28; his wife, Yessica; and their 3- and 4-year-old sons, Luis Julian and Luis Damian.


The family was found sprayed with more than 20 close-range bullets off the shoulder of the turnpike in Port St. Lucie, igniting a sweeping investigation that tracked back to one of the largest cocaine rings along the East Coast, investigators have said. Enter private investigator Pat McKenna of West Palm Beach, veteran of the successful defense teams for both O.J. Simpson and William Kennedy Smith.

McKenna discovered the 911 call and listened to it. He wrote in a court affidavit that the call recorded the actual shooting -- the voices and the shots. He has been appointed by the court to assist in Sanchez's defense.


McKenna wrote in the affidavit that a captain with the FHP, Ibrahim Egeli, played the 911 recording for him and told him that Drug Enforcement Administration agents and St. Lucie County sheriff's investigators were aware of it.

''Egeli also expressed concern at the pressure being placed by outside investigators on FHP regarding the time of the call,'' McKenna wrote. The captain, though, did not provide a copy, according to the affidavit. Neither will federal prosecutors, according to Murrell.

Murrell wrote that the 911 tape has never been mentioned despite repeated requests to prosecutors for evidence. He assumes it was never considered by the U.S. attorney general who authorized seeking the death penalty against the men.

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