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Star witness forfeits deal

He pleaded guilty in the Xbox slayings and agreed to testify against three others. But on the stand, he clams up.

Published July 14, 2006

ST. AUGUSTINE - A man who pleaded guilty in October to killing six people in a Deltona house two years ago refused to testify Thursday against three others charged in the slayings, proclaiming his innocence and saying he wanted to withdraw his plea.

Robert Anthony Cannon, 20, faced a life sentence for his plea and for agreeing to testify about the Aug. 6, 2004 killings, allegedly done in revenge over the loss of an Xbox video game system belonging to another defendant. The deal would have spared him a death sentence.

After taking the witness stand, Cannon interrupted State Attorney John Tanner's questioning.

"I want to say something to the court before I continue," Cannon said, prompting Circuit Judge Bill Parsons to send the jury out.

Speaking to the victims' relatives present, Cannon said, "I am truly sorry for their loss and the loss of their loved ones. From the bottom of my heart, I really am sorry."

Turning to Parsons, he said, "I am not guilty, sir."

For about 40 minutes, Cannon repeatedly told attorneys he would not answer their questions.

He did, however, answer a few. He acknowledged he went to the victims' house.

Asked about his agreement with prosecutors on a life sentence, he replied, "I am going to face death in the Lord's name."

Tanner declined to comment on Cannon's refusal to testify.

Former prison inmate Troy Victorino, 29, Michael Salas, 20, and Jerone Hunter, 20, all face six counts of first-degree murder, five counts of mutilating a corpse and other felonies. They allegedly barged into the home as the victims slept and attacked them with baseball bats and knives. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for all three.

Victorino's attorney, Michael Nielsen, said Cannon's change of mind surprised him.

Another witness, Brandon Graham, 19, testified he was with Cannon and the other three when Victorino outlined the murder plan.

Victorino had seen the movie Wonderland, which includes a scene of people being beaten to death by pipes. He said he wanted to get a group to do the same, Graham said.

Asked if they needed masks, Victorino said, "We are not going to leave any evidence. We are going to kill them all," Graham said.

Graham said he left town for a while because "I wanted to get away from them." Days after the slayings, he called police.

The victims were Erin Belanger, 22; Michelle Nathan, 19; Francisco Ayo-Roman, 30; Anthony Vega, 34; Roberto Gonzalez, 28; and Jonathan Gleason, 17. Most worked at a Burger King.

Prosecutors say Victorino became angry when Belanger took his Xbox video game and some clothing from her grandparents' vacant home where he had been squatting.

Belanger's grandmother, Norma Reidy, testified that no one had her permission to live in the house in her absence. She lives part of the year in Deltona and the rest in Maine.

The trial was moved to St. Johns County from Volusia County because of pretrial media coverage.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 01:18:53]

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