Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Closing arguments begin in slaying of Fla. family

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors took jurors down what they described as "an expressway to murder" Wednesday as they presented closing arguments in the death penalty trial of two men accused of gunning down a family of four, including two young children, in a drug dispute.

The bodies of Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, his wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, 25, and their sons, Luis Julian, 4, and Luis Damian, 3, were found alongside a remote stretch of Florida's Turnpike in October 2006.

Prosecutors claim Jose Luis Escobedo was involved in a drug ring with the defendants and he and his family were killed to settle a debt. The defendants also are accused of stealing 15 kilograms of cocaine from Escobedo on the night of the killings.

Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez Jr., both 25, are charged with armed carjacking resulting in deaths, conspiracy, weapons counts and drug offenses. Both have pleaded not guilty. They face the death penalty if convicted. Their attorneys say the family was killed by Mexican drug lords.

Prosecutor Stephen Carlton told jurors Wednesday the case was about "large-scale drug trafficking, guns and violence" that took the defendants down "an expressway to murder." He called the crime "brutal and savage."

Two others — Danny Varela, 28, and Liana Lopez, 20 — also are on trial in the same case for drug conspiracy and weapons charges. They also have pleaded not guilty and face life in prison if convicted.

Authorities say on the night of the killings, Troya and Sanchez followed the Escobedo family as Jose Escobedo picked up cocaine. They are accused of pulling the family over on a dark, deserted stretch of highway, killing them, and then stealing the drugs and money to settle a debt.

The prosecution's case relies on testimony from jailhouse informants, highway video surveillance, drug ledgers and guns found in the suspects' home. Authorities also said they have fingerprints that belong to Sanchez and Troya on turnpike tickets from the night of the killings.

Closing arguments were expected to last through Wednesday.


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