Monday, March 16, 2009

Turnpike slayings: Killers should die, jurors told

By Vanessa Blum

South Florida Sun Sentinel

1:38 PM EDT, March 16, 2009

Two West Palm Beach men deserve to die for executing a family of four alongside Florida's Turnpike, a federal prosecutor told jurors today at the start of the penalty phase in the capital murder trial.

Daniel Troya and Richard Sanchez Jr., both 25, were convicted on March 5 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.

In determining the price Troya and Sanchez should pay for their crimes, attorney Richard Burns of the U.S. Department of Justice said jurors should consider the number of victims and the vulnerability of the Escobedo children.

"There is only one appropriate penalty that does justice," Burns said in his opening statement.

Arguing against the death penalty, attorneys for Troya and Sanchez said life in prison would be sufficient punishment in light of their clients' difficult life circumstances.

"Death would not be justice in this case," said Sanchez's attorney Donnie Murrell. "It would simply be revenge."

During the sentencing phase, which could last more than a week, jurors must consider whether Troya and Sanchez should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Federal law requires the jury's recommendation to be unanimous.

Both sides have the opportunity to present aggravating and mitigating circumstances -- evidence weighing in favor of or against execution.

Several relatives of the victims and the defendants are expected to testify.

In his opening statement, Murrell said Sanchez grew up in a home wracked by domestic violence and struggled to overcome severe learning disabilities.

Sanchez, who has a young son, fell in with a local drug ring and was "too naïve and simple" to see he was being manipulated, Murrell said.

Troya's lawyer, James Eisenberg, said his client suffered emotional problems after a friend died in his arms from a gunshot wound when Troya was 12. His downward spiral continued when a family friend died from a drug overdose, Eisenberg said.

No federal defendant in Florida has been condemned to die since Congress reauthorized capital punishment in 1988.

The bodies of the Escobedo family were found in a heap at the side of the road in St. Lucie County on Oct. 13, 2006. Yessica Escobedo tried to use her body to shield her sons, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors contend Troya and Sanchez killed the Escobedo family to erase a drug debt owed to Jose Escobedo and steal his cocaine.

Eisenberg warned jurors the brutal facts of the crime don't automatically mandate the death penalty.

"Let's get over that right now," he said.

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

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