tampabay.com

Two deny striking killing blows

Both say they thought they were going to the Deltona house to pick up an Xbox and other items.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 21, 2006


ST. AUGUSTINE - Two of the men charged with taking part in the murders of six people in revenge over the loss of an Xbox video game system testified Thursday that they hit some of the victims with baseball bats, but denied inflicting the fatal blows.

Jerone Hunter and Michael Salas, both 20, both told jurors they did not hit any of the victims in the head.

Their testimony followed that of Troy Victorino, 29, the man accused of being the ringleader in the August 2004 slayings in a Deltona home. He testified Wednesday that he wasn't even on the scene, but at a bar with friends, when the six victims were beaten to death with baseball bats.

Blood from three of the victims was found on Victorino's boots, a DNA expert testified this week, and bootprints also linked him to the crime scene.

Salas, whose voice sometimes broke with emotion, denied responsibility for the killings.

"I did not kill anybody in that house. I didn't hit anybody in the head. I did not hit anybody in the face," Salas said. "I'm not guilty. I had no blood on me."

Both Hunter and Salas testified they were intimidated by Victorino, a 6-foot-7, 270-pound former prison inmate with a violent criminal record. Hunter said he feared Victorino might harm him or his family if he was betrayed.

State Attorney John Tanner repeatedly asked Salas why he didn't leave when he learned of the slaying plans.

"If I didn't help him, he would probably hurt me, too," Salas said.

Hunter said he did not know they were going to the Deltona house to kill the victims, two of whom he knew. He said he thought they were picking up the Xbox and other items left behind when evicted from another home, a vacant one belonging to victim Erin Belanger's grandmother.

While Hunter denied killing anyone, Salas said Hunter beat victim Roberto Gonzalez, 28, with a baseball bat. "He started hitting him and hitting him, and he wouldn't stop," Salas said.