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Suspects held in turnpike slayings of 4

One or more of four people arrested on drug charges executed a family, authorities think.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published October 28, 2006


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WEST PALM BEACH - Authorities said Friday they think they have the person or persons in custody who carried out the execution-style slayings of a couple and their two young sons along Florida's Turnpike.

Three men and a woman arrested Wednesday on drug charges probably had been involved with the father in drug trafficking, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said. None has yet been charged in the killings.

The bodies of the victims, all shot to death, were found Oct. 13 off a rural stretch of the turnpike near Port St. Lucie, about 50 miles north of their home in the Palm Beach County city of Greenacres. They were Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, his wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, 25, and their sons, Luis Julian, 4, and Luis Damian, 3.

Police searching the home found evidence that the father had been involved in cocaine trafficking, Drug Enforcement Administration agent David Weeks said in court papers filed Friday. Items included "suspected drug ledgers" and plastic packaging used for illegal drugs.

References in the ledgers - detailed accounts of drug payments and debts owed, among other things - linked Escobedo to the four drug suspects, the DEA agent said.

A search of the West Palm Beach home of the three male suspects turned up cocaine, ecstasy and drug packaging materials, the agent said. Investigators also found more than a dozen guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle. The agent did not say if the weapons were tied to the killings.

There was also a photograph of Escobedo with one of the suspects, Danny Varela, 26, according to court papers. The sheriff identified the other suspects as Liana Lopez, 18, Daniel Troya, 23, and Ricardo Sanchez, 23.

The four are charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. They made initial appearances in federal court Friday in Fort Pierce.

Mascara would not say which of the four is believed to have killed the family or whether all may have been involved. He said investigators believe the motive was "drugs, money or both."

Another man, Juan Gutierrez, was also arrested and charged in the drug case but is not named as a person of interest in the slayings. According to court papers, he was cooperating with authorities and told them he and Varela were at the Escobedos' home before the killings.

A fifth man, Michael James Naujalis, of Lake Worth, is being sought but has not been named a suspect.

All the suspects have lengthy criminal records, including arrests for burglary, drugs and weapons possession.

Investigators think the Escobedos' Jeep Cherokee pulled to the side of the highway between 1:30 and 3 a.m. and that someone in the vehicle shot them and drove away. Authorities say the victims appeared to be lying down or kneeling when shot. The woman was clutching her sons in an apparent effort to protect them.

The Jeep was found abandoned in West Palm Beach three days later.

The family had moved to Florida in June from the Brownsville, Texas, area.

The sheriff said Escobedo's brother was involved in a heroin ring and is thought to be a fugitive in Mexico, but that case has no relation to the killings.

[Last modified October 28, 2006, 00:09:08]


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