WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Two men accused in the execution-style shooting deaths of a family along Florida's Turnpike were settling drug debts and stealing cocaine when they ambushed the couple and their two boys, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez Jr., both 25, are charged with armed carjacking resulting in deaths, conspiracy, weapons counts and drug offenses. Both men have pleaded not guilty and their attorneys implied the family was killed by Mexican drug lords.
"The story of this trial involves drugs, guns, violence and large-scale drug trafficking," prosecutor Stephen Carlton told jurors during opening statements, "that unfortunately led to the murders of an entire family."
Both men face the death penalty if convicted.
Standing in front of a large photograph of the dead family in a patch of green grass on the side of the road, Carlton said: "It is shocking and horrifying to the imagination."
Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, his wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, 25, and their sons, Luis Julian, 4, and Luis Damian, 3, were shot multiple times.
Jose Escobedo lay on his back, a gunshot to his head. His wife was found face down beside him, shot 11 times, her arms still clutching her sons' dead bodies.
The Escobedos were involved in drug trafficking with the suspects, Carlton said, explaining their role in the crime. But the "two little kids did not deserve this fate," he said.
Defense attorneys for Troya and Sanchez told jurors the Escobedos were criminals who came to Palm Beach County from the Brownsville, Texas, area to set up a cocaine operation, and bear responsibility for their fate.
They urged jurors to set aside emotion and focus on the lack of witnesses, a murder weapon and other evidence in the killings on Oct. 13, 2006.
"What you must do, although it is difficult when you see a picture of two dead children," is be impartial, said Sanchez's attorney, Michael Cohen.
Cohen said his client was part of a drug trafficking ring, but was nothing more than "an errand boy."
"Ricardo Sanchez had no motive to hurt anyone," he said.
However, notes found in a ledger at Escobedo's home that included detailed accounts of drug payments indicated Escobedo owed $187,000 to someone in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the border from Brownsville, a major cocaine corridor for Mexican drug cartels.
"The violence associated with these Mexican cartels has spilled over into the U.S.," Cohen said.
Two others — Danny Varela, 28, and Liana Lopez, 20 — also are on trial in the same case for drug conspiracy and weapons charges. They also have pleaded not guilty and face life in prison if convicted.
Authorities say on the night of the killings, Troya and Sanchez followed the Escobedo family as Jose Escobedo picked up cocaine. They are accused of pulling the family over on a dark, deserted stretch of highway, killing them, and then stealing the drugs and money to settle a debt.
The prosecution's case relies on testimony from jailhouse informants, highway video surveillance, drug ledgers, guns found in the suspects' home. Authorities also said they have fingerprints that belong to Sanchez and Troya on turnpike tickets from the night of the killings