Thursday, March 19, 2009

Florida's Turnpike slayings defendant has below average intelligence

By Vanessa Blum

South Florida Sun Sentinel

5:41 PM EDT, March 18, 2009


A West Palm Beach man found guilty of killing a family alongside Florida's Turnpike has below average intelligence but could determine right from wrong, a defense mental health expert testified Wednesday.

Ricardo Sanchez Jr., 25, is fighting for his life at a death penalty hearing in federal court in West Palm Beach, along with co-defendant Daniel Troya, 25.

On March 5, both men were found guilty of armed carjacking resulting in the deaths of Luis Escobedo, 28; his wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, 25; and their sons, Luis Julian, 4; and Luis Damian, 3.

The four bullet-ridden bodies were found in a heap at the side of the road in St. Lucie County on Oct. 13, 2006.

Sanchez's attorneys have portrayed him as a simple-minded follower who did the bidding of his cousin, a local drug dealer.

Daniel Grant, a Georgia psychologist, said Sanchez scored a 77 on a clinical IQ test, compared to an average of 100.

A score below 70 could indicate mental retardation, Grant said.

But prosecutor John Kastrenakes focused on Grant's conclusion that Sanchez could tell right from wrong.

"Because you have an IQ of 80, doesn't mean you are bound to commit a life of crime does it?" Kastrenakes asked.

Earlier, defense lawyers played a videotaped interview with Sanchez's 6-year-old son, Ricardo Sanchez III.

The smiling boy sat on a sofa and drew pictures as a woman off camera asked questions:

"Where's your daddy, Ricardo?"

"At jail."

"How does that make you feel?"


Prosecutors say Sanchez and Troya murdered the Escobedo family to settle a drug debt and deserve to die for their crime.

Defense attorneys argue that life in prison with no chance of release is sufficient punishment.

The sentencing phase of the trial continues Thursday, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations next week. The jury's finding must be unanimous and is binding on judge in the case.

Vanessa Blum can be reached at or 954-356-4605.

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