Guilty verdicts in murders of family along the Turnpike - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Guilty verdicts in murders of family along the Turnpike

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-It was a murder that shocked our area. A couple and their two young boys were shot execution-style along the Turnpike in St. Lucie County. Thursday a federal jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts, for all four suspects, accused of charges related to the case.

"I'm just very happy," said Rita Flores, sister of murder victim Jose Luis Escobedo. "I can say there's justice out there."

The bodies of Jose Luis Escobedo, his wife Jessica, and their two young sons, Luis Julian and Luis Damian, were found along the Turnpike in October 2006.

The jury found Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez guilty of the killings, as well as carjacking, and drug and weapons charges. Danny Varela and Liana Lopez are guilty of drug and weapons charges.

Prosecutors say Varela headed a cocaine trafficking ring that included the other three suspects and the victim, Mr. Escobedo. The government's lawyers say the family was murdered to settle a drug debt, and to steal the drugs the family was carrying.

Marks on bullets found at the murder scene matched bullets found at the West Palm Beach home shared by the four accused. Turnpike receipts and video placed Troya and Sanchez on the highway at the time of the killings. Defense lawyers, though, had reminded jurors no one testified to actually witnessing the murders.

From the testimony to graphic pictures, the five-week trial was difficult for the victims' family members to endure. But Flores, the victim's sister, said she and other family members needed closure.

"We needed all those unanswered questions to be answered," said Flores outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach. "Even though there's a lot of them that weren't answered, most of them got answered," Flores said as she fought back tears.

Flores' mother, Rosario Escobedo, agreed she was pleased with the verdict. Jessica Escobedo's mother, Sara Guerrero, said in Spanish, she didn't have the words to describe how she felt.

Family of the four accused had earlier left the building without commenting. Their loved ones now potentially face either a death sentence or life in prison.

"Obviously everybody's disappointed," said James Eisenberg, one of the lawyers representing Daniel Troya. Eisenberg said he could not comment further because of the judge's order not to talk about the case.

Jurors will report back to court March 16 to begin hearing testimony in the penalty phase of the case. They will recommend either the death penalty or life in prison for Troya and Sanchez.

Danny Varela, a previously convicted felon, faces an automatic life sentence. Liana Lopez is looking at between 15 years and life.

Varela's attorney, Robert Gershman, had fought to separate his client's case from the others. "Maybe it was more appropriate just to have him and his dozen charges without the Medical Examiner, without the dead bodies, and without those emotional things," said Gershman.

Sentencing for Varela and Lopez is expected in May.

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