Florida Turnpike Killers Get Death for Drug-Debt Murder of Family, Including 2 Young Boys

A federal judge Wednesday sentenced two men to death for the drug-debt slaying of a family of four on the side of a Florida highway, including two young boys who died in their mother's arms.

The pair received Florida's first federal death sentences in decades.

District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley imposed the sentences Wednesday on Daniel Troya, 26, and Ricardo Sanchez Jr., 25.

The sentences were meted out at separate hearings. They marked the first federal death sentences imposed in Florida since Congress reinstated capital punishment in 1988.

Troya and Sanchez were convicted at trial March 5 of fatally shooting 28-year-old Jose Luis Escobedo and three other members of his family.

Also killed were the man's 25-year-old wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, and their sons, Luis Julian, 4, and Luis Damian, 3.

Their bodies were found in the grass alongside Florida's Turnpike on Oct. 13, 2006, shot at close range.

Troya received two death sentences, for the two child victims, and five life terms. Hurley called Troya "enormously dangerous."

"I must confess I have no confidence that Mr. Troya would not do this again if the opportunity presented itself," the judge said before reading the sentence.

Troya was shackled around the waist and guarded by four bailiffs. He offered an apology during the hearing, .

"First and foremost, to the victims and family members, I would like to apologize," he said. "Basically, I'm sorry to my family, the people that put faith in me to be good."

He also apologized for throwing a plastic water bottle at prosecutors in March after a jury recommended the death penalty for Troya and co-defendant Ricardo Sanchez Jr.

As he was led from the courtroom, Troya nodded to his mother, father and sister, who were silently crying.

The judge said Troya grew up in a "wonderful family" and added, "I have no idea how Mr. Troya got to be the person he is today, but he is an enormously dangerous person who has no regard for the taking of a human life."

Sanchez was sentenced later Wednesday.

The victims had moved to Palm Beach County from the Brownsville, Texas, area a few months before they were killed.

Prosecutors say Jose Escobedo was involved in a drug ring with the defendants. They said Troya and Sanchez killed him and his family to settle a debt, then stole 15 kilograms of cocaine from Escobedo.

Yessica Escobedo suffered 11 gunshot wounds while cradling her two young sons in her arms in an apparent attempt to shield them. The boys were shot a total of 10 times. Jose Escobedo was shot five times.

Prosecutors said bullet casings at the scene were linked to ammunition at the defendants' home. They also said Troya and Sanchez's fingerprints were found on turnpike tickets from the night of the killings.

Defense attorneys had claimed the case was flimsy, questioned the reliability of government witnesses who stood to gain favor in their own criminal proceedings, and pointed to the lack of witnesses to the actual crime. They claimed the killings were the work of a Mexican drug gang.

Two others — Danny Varela, 28, and Liana Lopez, 20 — also were convicted in March in the same case on drug conspiracy and weapons charges.

They face life sentences at hearings scheduled Friday. Authorities said Escobedo was the drug supplier for the gang led by Varela.