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3 guilty in brutal Xbox slayings

The men used baseball bats to kill six people - all in a dispute over a video game system.

By TIMES WIRES
Published July 26, 2006


ST. AUGUSTINE - Six people dead, beaten with bats, some of them mutilated with a knife. And all over an Xbox video game system.

The horrific slayings, which riveted Central Florida when they occurred in Deltona on Aug. 6, 2004, resulted in the murder convictions Tuesday of the three men who committed them.

All three could receive the death penalty.

A jury deliberated six hours over two days before finding Troy Victorino, the reported ringleader, and Michael Salas and Jerone Hunter each guilty on six counts of first-degree murder for their attack on four men and two women in a house in Deltona.

The state will seek the death penalty when the sentencing phase of the trial begins on Thursday.

Jurors and family members, who huddled together on the right side of the courtroom during the trial, had relived the horrors through gruesome pictures, including a video of the battered victims. The video showed the victims' injuries, including shattered skulls and injured brains. Later, the medical examiner displayed six posters, each containing six to nine pictures, detailing the injuries on each body.

After the trial, a friend of victim Michelle Nathan, Allyson Prevo, 28, of Deltona, described the graphic testimony as "worse than any horror movie."

Prosecutors said Victorino, 29, organized the attacks after victim Erin Belanger, 22, had him evicted from her grandmother's vacant house, where he had been squatting. She kept some of his belongings, including clothing and the Xbox video game system.

Victorino testified he was drinking with friends at a restaurant at the time of the killings, although DNA evidence proved he was at the scene. Crime analysts said DNA evidence showed a pair of Lugz boots stained with the blood of several victims belonged to Victorino. Bloody prints matching the boots were also found at the crime scene.

Salas and Hunter, both 20, admitted hitting several victims, but denied inflicting the fatal blows.

State Attorney John Tanner, the lead prosecutor on the case, said he believed strong scientific evidence likely helped the jury.

"Less than six hours is not a hasty verdict; it's a well-deliberated verdict," Tanner said.

Defense attorneys said their clients were shocked and disappointed at the trial's outcome. Victorino and Hunter both showed little reaction as the verdicts against were read. Salas shook his head and cried.

"Victorino is kind of a Charles Manson," said Hunter's attorney Frank Bankowitz. "He had power over them. He could tell them what do. He could tell them when to be, where to be, how to be."

Jeff Dowdy, one of Victorino's attorneys, said his client was being unfairly blamed by the two other defendants.

"Their defense is: It's all Troy's fault," Dowdy said. "This is feeding frenzy, blame everything on Troy."

Tanner, however, said it was unimportant who killed which person at the Deltona home: "They killed them all." He also disputed the claims by Salas and Hunter about fearing Victorino.

The men's attorneys said they would now focus on the sentencing phase, scheduled to begin Thurs-

day and last two to three days. The jury of seven women and five men will recommend whether the men should receive life in prison or death by lethal injection.

"We still have to save Mr. Victorino's life. His life is on us," Dowdy said.

Victims' relatives in the courtroom mostly nodded as each guilty verdict was returned, and some held hands.

"We're really pleased with the verdict," said Mark Shukwit, the stepfather of victim Nathan.

Nancy Cordero, the sister of victim Anthony Vega, said she hopes all the defendants except Salas receive the death penalty. She said Salas was the only one of the men who was "up front" with his story.

Along with Belanger, Nathan, 19, and Vega, 34, the victims were Francisco Ayo-Roman; Roberto Gonzalez, 28; and Jonathan Gleason, 17.

A fourth defendant, Robert Cannon, 20, pleaded guilty in October to all the charges. But when he took the stand early in the trial, he refused to testify and said he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea because he was innocent. Chief Circuit Judge Bill Parsons hasn't decided whether he will allow the change.

The case was moved from DeLand to St. Augustine after Parsons determined he could not select an impartial jury because of intense news coverage.

Information from the Associated Press and Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.

[Last modified July 26, 2006, 01:42:23]


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