Three to go on trial for lives
Prosecutors say a man angry over a lost video game enlisted the others to help kill six people.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 5, 2006
JACKSONVILLE - Kay Shukwit still shudders when she thinks about the final moments of her 19-year-old daughter as she was clubbed with baseball bats and stabbed.
Three men charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Michelle Ann Nathan and five other young people in Deltona two years ago are to go on trial today in St. Augustine. Another man has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
"I have nightmares of her screaming, 'Mommy!' I'm trying to reach her in the darkness and I can't reach her," Shukwit said. "I think about the terror and horror, what they went through knowing they were going to die."
The victims, some of whom were sleeping when the attack occurred about 1 a.m., did not put up a fight or try to escape. Even two small dogs were killed.
What made the killings all the more shocking, investigators say, was the alleged motive - the ringleader was angry because one of the victims had taken his Xbox video game from her grandparents' vacant home where he had been living without permission.
The case was moved from DeLand to St. Augustine after it was decided intense media coverage made it almost impossible to pick an impartial jury in Central Florida. A pool of 960 potential jurors has been summoned in St. Johns County. Jury selection and the trial could last four to six weeks.
Troy Victorino, 29, a former prison inmate, the alleged ringleader; Michael Salas, 20; and Jerone Hunter, 20, all face six counts of first-degree murder, five counts of mutilating a human corpse and other felonies.
If they are convicted, prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
Bill Belanger, father of 22-year-old victim Erin Belanger, said he plans to sit on the front row each day of the trial, hoping to see justice done.
It was his daughter who called police to have the squatters, including Victorino, evicted from her grandparents' vacant house. She picked up Victorino's Xbox and some of his clothing and kept it at her house.
That enraged Victorino, and he enlisted the other three others to help him carry out the attacks, prosecutors say.
At the time of the slayings, Victorino was on probation after serving six years in prison. He was arrested eight days before the killings on a felony battery charge and was quickly released on a $2,500 bail.
Robert Cannon, 19, pleaded guilty in October to all charges. For his testimony, he will receive a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
Killed in the Aug. 6, 2004, attack were Belanger; Nathan; Francisco Ayo-Roman, 30; Anthony Vega, 34; Roberto Gonzalez, 28; and Jonathan Gleason, 17. Most were workers at a Burger King.