Prosecutor: Unpaid drug debt led to Turnpike killings

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Prosecutors say drugs, guns, and violence led to the execution-style murders of an entire family on the Turnpike. The statement came as lawyers made opening statements Tuesday in West Palm Beach, in the trial of four people accused of federal crimes related to the killings.

The bodies of Jose Luis and Yessica Escobedo and their boys, 4-year old Luis Damian, and Luis Julian, age 3, were found along the Turnpike in St. Lucie County in October 2006. They had been shot at close range.

Now on trial-- the accused triggermen, Ricardo Sanchez and Daniel Troya. Danny Varela is charged with heading a heavily-armed drug ring based in West Palm Beach. Liana Lopez is charged with being a drug courier.

Assistant United States Attorney Steve Carlton told jurors an unpaid drug debt was the motive for the murders. And he said he wasn't going to sugarcoat things, victims Jose and Yessica Escobedo were involved in drug trafficking, working for Varela.

But Carlton said the couple didn't deserve to die like this and he asked, "What choice did these two little kids have who their parents were? The two little kids did not deserve this fate."

Lawyers for Sanchez and Troya said there are gaps in the government's evidence. They said prosecutors have no witnesses to the murders and no evidence at the scene implicates either man.

Attorneys representing Varela and Lopez said the case against their clients relied on "turncoats and snitches" hoping for reduced sentences.

Also on Tuesday, prosecutors called their first witnesses, including the driver who noticed the bodies of the family along the highway.

During the testimony of a Sheriff's crime scene investigator, jurors and spectators saw graphic pictures of the Escobedo's bodies. At least two relatives of the family left before the pictures were shown. Other family members wiped away tears as the photos appeared.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Sanchez and Troya. Testimony is expected to last at least four weeks.