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Florida sentences highway killers to death

A federal judge Wednesday sentenced a 26-year-old man to death for the drug-debt slaying of a family of four on the side of a Florida highway, including two young boys who died in their mother's arms.
Bodies Along Turnpike
Daniel Troya was convicted in the October 2006 killings of a husband and wife and their two young sons. Palm Beach County Sheriff via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two men were sentenced to death Wednesday for the drug-debt slaying of a family of four on the side of a Florida highway, including two young boys who died in their mother's arms.

Daniel Troya, 26, and co-defendant Ricardo Sanchez Jr., 25, both received two death sentences, for the two child victims, and five life terms each at separate hearings.

District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley called Troya "enormously dangerous" and gave each man additional years in prison on lesser counts.

The sentencings marked the first imposition of a federal death penalty in Florida since the federal government reinstated capital punishment in 1988.

"I must confess I have no confidence that Mr. Troya would not do this again if the opportunity presented itself," the judge said before reading Troya's sentence.

Troya, who like Sanchez was shackled at the waist and guarded by four bailiffs, offered an apology during his court session.

"First and foremost, to the victims and family members, I would like to apologize," he said. "Basically, I'm sorry to my family, the people that put faith in me to be good."

He also apologized for throwing a plastic water bottle at prosecutors in March after a jury recommended the death penalty for both men. As he was led from the courtroom, Troya nodded to his mother, father and sister, who were silently crying.

The judge said Troya grew up in a "wonderful family" and added, "I have no idea how Mr. Troya got to be the person he is today, but he is an enormously dangerous person who has no regard for the taking of a human life."

Troya and Sanchez were convicted March 5 of killing Jose Luis Escobedo, 28; his wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, 25; and their sons, Luis Julian, 4, and Luis Damian, 3. Their bodies were found in the grass alongside Florida's Turnpike on Oct. 13, 2006, shot at close range.

The victims had moved to Palm Beach County from the Brownsville, Texas, area a few months before they were killed.

Prosecutors say Jose Escobedo was involved in a drug ring with the defendants. They said Troya and Sanchez killed him and his family to settle a debt, then stole 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of cocaine from Escobedo.

Yessica Escobedo suffered 11 gunshot wounds while cradling her two young sons in her arms in an apparent attempt to shield them. The boys were shot a total of 10 times. Jose Escobedo was shot five times.

Prosecutors said bullet casings at the scene were linked to ammunition at the defendants' home. They also said Troya and Sanchez's fingerprints were found on turnpike tickets from the night of the killings.

On Wednesday, Sanchez told the court he was innocent.

"I want to tell Luis (sic) and Yessica's families sorry for the tragedy or whatever," Sanchez said. "But I am going to hold on to my innocence because I am innocent and they will see that when it comes back on appeal."

Defense attorneys had claimed the case was flimsy, questioned the reliability of government witnesses who stood to gain favor in their own criminal proceedings, and pointed to the lack of witnesses to the actual crime. They claimed the killings were the work of a Mexican drug gang.

Two others — Danny Varela, 28, and Liana Lopez, 20 — also were convicted in March in the same case on drug conspiracy and weapons charges. They face life sentences at hearings scheduled Friday. Authorities said Escobedo was the drug supplier for the gang led by Varela.