Defendant in Video Game Deaths Denies Bludgeoning Victims in Head

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Two men charged with murdering six people in a revenge slaying over 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, told jurors they participated in the attacks, but did not hit any of the victims in the head.

Troy Victorino, a 29-year-old believed to be the ringleader, has also denied culpability. He testified Wednesday that he was innocent and was at a bar with friends during the killings in August 2004.

Blood from three of the victims was found on Victorino's boots, a DNA expert testified this week. Salas and Hunter previously told authorities they had beaten some of the victims.

But Salas, his voice breaking, testified Wednesday that "I did not kill anybody in that house. I didn't hit anybody in the head. I did not hit anybody in the face. I'm not guilty. I had no blood on me."

Salas and Hunter testified they were intimidated by Victorino, a 6-foot-7, 270-pound former prison inmate with a violent criminal record. Prosecutor John Tanner repeatedly asked Salas why he didn't leave when he learned of the slaying plans.

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

Hunter, a star wrestler in high school, 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 the defendants had left behind when they were evicted as squatters in another home belonging to a grandmother of one of the victims, Erin Belanger.

Victorino kicked in the front door, then entering the house yelling, "Where's my stuff?" Hunter testified. He said Victorino started swinging when victim Jonathan Gleason, 17, replied, "I don't know."

Victorino hit Gleason from behind with a bat, on top of his head, Hunter said.

Hunter said Victorino was the only attacker who went into a bedroom where Belanger, 22, and her boyfriend were sleeping. The two died from strikes to their heads, and Belanger was sexually mutilated, autopsies found.

Salas also testified about Hunter attacking two victims. Of one victim, Salas said, "He started hitting him and hitting him and he wouldn't stop."

A few minutes after the attackers left, Victorino said he wanted to go back to the house, Hunter testified. He said Victorino entered alone with a switchblade knife and returned a few minutes later, wiping blood on his shirt.

Medical examiner Thomas Beaver has testified that the victims died from the bat attacks and that most of the stabbing and cutting came after they died.

The three defendants are each charged with six counts of first-degree murder.

A fourth man, Robert A. Cannon, 20, pleaded guilty in October in a deal with prosecutors. But when he took the stand last week, he refused to testify and said he wanted to withdraw his plea. The judge has not decided whether he will allow it.

During his testimony Thursday, Hunter described seeing Cannon fighting with one of the victims and striking him.