Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Florida Turnpike killers sentenced to death

Daniel Troya and Ricardo “Rick” Sanchez, convicted in the Oct. 13, 2006, execution-style killings of Jose Luis Escobedo and his family, will be put to death for the crimes, a jury decided Tuesday.

Troya and Sanchez are the first federal defendants sentenced to death in Florida since Congress reinstated the Federal Death Penalty Act in 1988.

Troya appeared calm upon hearing he would die for killing Escobedo’s 4- and 3-year old sons, Luis Julian and Luis Damian. But as soon as jurors exited court, he launched into an outburst that culminated in heaving a full water bottle at Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton, which grazed his shoulder.

As jurors filed out of court, Troya refused to rise, then cursed his attorney when asked to stand.

Seated at the defense table, Troya began to mumble and move his body back and forth as Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley discussed scheduling a future hearing to sentence him on several additional drug and weapons convictions.

Fidgeting in his seat, Troya rambled on before declaring “you all are already for the killing . . . let’s just get on with it.”

With those words, he stood, grabbed the bottle before him and threw it toward prosecutors.

U.S. marshals, who were on high alert and already moving toward him, had Troya pinned to the ground by the time the bottle hit the floor.

As the marshals subdued him, Troya’s family — his father, mother, sister and grandmother – began shouting from their seats, both for Troya to stop and telling marshals “don’t hurt him.”

With nearly a dozen marshals filling the courtroom, Hurley called for calm as Troya’s family cried and spectators gasped in awe.

Sanchez, meanwhile, surrounded by marshals, remained motionless as Troya was hauled out of court.

Later, Troya’s attorney, Jim Eisenberg, acknowledged his behavior was “inappropriate.”

“Mr. Troya was upset, he’d been sitting there for three months and he was just naturally upset,” he said. “And he didn’t appreciate the way some of the prosecutors had spoken about him and acted themselves, and he reacted in a manner that was not appropriate.”

At trial, prosecutors said Troya and Sanchez carried out the brutal predawn killings on the orders of their co-defendant and convicted drug kingpin Danny Varela, 28, for whom the two worked as drug couriers.

Varela, who faces up to life in prison for drug and weapons offenses, was not charged with the murders.

After a six-week trial, a two-week penalty phase and four days of deliberations, the jury – seven men and five women – voted unanimously to impose the death penalty for the killings of the Escobedo boys.

The panel further agreed that Troya and Sanchez should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release for also gunning down Jose Escobedo, 28, and his wife Yessica, 25.

Eisenberg insisted they’d appeal the two death sentences.

“The problem was the jury said life imprisonment on three out of the five counts: they said life imprisonment on the carjacking, life imprisonment on the death of the father and life imprisonment even on the death of the mother,” he noted. “But it was the two children that they came up with the death penalty on.

“We knew that was the problem going into the case,” he added, “and everybody knew that and that ended up being the problem in the case.”

Troya’s family, Eisenberg said, were “obviously disappointed, and obviously upset.

“They were hoping for life in prison,” he said.

Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Cohen said they’ll also file appeals.

“This is just a unfortunate, unfortunate situation,” he said, “and we intend to take it to appeal.”

After court, St. Lucie County sheriff’s detective Fred Wilson said he was pleased with the verdict, and glad the case is over.

“I think it was a just verdict and the jury did their job,” he said.

He said he wasn’t surprised the jury voted for a penalty of death in the murders of the two boys.

“The adults had a choice, but the children didn’t,” he said.

“The end result was we caught the bad guys, justice was served in all the defendants in this case, and now we can move on and the (Escobedo) family can close their doors and move on.”

Later, Jose Escobedo’s mother, Rosario Escobedo, who sat in court every day with Sara Guerrero, Yessica Escobedo’s mother, both of Brownsville, Texas, said the verdict was a relief.

“It feels good, it does,” she said. “I feel like a great weight has been lifted off me.”

She called it a “no-win situation.

“I think everybody loses here: Their parents, how they feel – our loss, it’s something I’ll never get back,” she said. “There is a big void in me — I lost my son, my two grandsons and my daughter-in-law.

“But they had to be held accountable,” she added. “I am relieved and I was ready to accept whatever the jury did. Now we can go home.”

What’s next for Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez?

The two death penalty sentences will automatically be appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta, Ga.

Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley will soon schedule another sentencing date for both men, who still face punishments for six additional drug and firearms convictions.

Co-defendant Danny Varela, 28, convicted of nine conspiracy, drug and weapons possession counts, faces up to life in prison at his sentencing, which could be in May.

Co-defendant Liana Lee Lopez, 20, convicted of four conspiracy, drug and firearm charges, faces a maximum penalty of life behind bars, is expected to be sentenced in May.

(Source : )

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