WEST PALM BEACH—Drug runners Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez Jr. each received two death sentences followed by four consecutive life sentences Wednesday for slaughtering a Greenacres family -- which included a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old -- alongside the turnpike in 2006.
It marks the first time the federal death penalty has been given in a Florida court since it was reinstated 21 years ago.
The execution-style shootings of Luis Escobedo, 28, his wife, Yessica Guerrero Escobedo, 25 and their pre-schoolers Luis Julian, 4, and Luis Damian, 3, stemmed from a cocaine trafficking operation Luis Escobedo ran for drug kingpin Danny Varela. Troya and Sanchez were ordered to settle a drug debt Escobedo had accumulated. Hurley was bound by law to follow the jury's recommendation that Troya and Sanchez receive death sentences for the killings of the Escobedo children.
At separate hearings Wednesday both men appeared in waist chains and ankle shackles and both offered brief apologies to the victims' families, a gesture Escobedo's mother, Rosario Escobedo, felt was "coached" by defense attorneys. Sanchez, 25, said he was sorry "for the tragedy or whatever" but maintained his innocence and insisted he would be exonerated on appeal. Troya, 26, spent about 15 minutes asking the judge to order the Bureau of Prisons to alter his confinement conditions.
"It's already bad enough that I got to go to Death Row," he said. "I don't think it's fair that I should go four stories underground and be housed with terrorists."
Troya said he was being held in solitary confinement with strict limitations on whom he can correspond with. He complained that his mail is held for at least 30 days and that he'd like to be able to write to more than his parents and sister.
"I got a mountain of people that will write me back," he said.
Before being placed in solitary he said he shared a cell with Jose Padilla, a United States citizen convicted of aiding terrorists.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton defended the government's decision to separate Troya, saying it "had to do with post-offense conduct" during his confinement. He declined to be more specific. He also called the violence and savagery of the crimes "unparalleled in my career."
Troya apologized to the judge for his violent outburst at his April death penalty hearing.
"I'm sorry about the chair. They told me the chair broke."
Hurley castigated Troya and Sanchez for the life they chose despite coming from loving families.
"This case is about the greed and violence that accompanies the drug trade," he said. "It's also about the triumph of justice."
Troya and Sanchez are now among 57 federal prisoners condemned to die, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
With their new status, the men are expected to be transferred to the federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., which also houses the federal government's execution chamber. If their executions go forward, they would die by lethal injection. As with any death penalty case, their appeals will last for years.
"That is how it should be," said veteran defense lawyer Bill Matthewman, citing the case of a man recently released from prison in Tennessee after 22 years on death row. "There could be nothing worse than having an innocent defendant executed."
Just three federal inmates -- including Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh -- have been put to death since Congress reauthorized capital punishment in 1988.
"I have no confidence that Mr. Troya would not do this again," Hurley said when announcing the sentence.
Troya's father. Lorenzo Troya, attended the hearing with his wife, daughter and parents. He feels awful for the Escobedo families but remains unconvinced that his son is their killer.
"The evidence is not there," he said.
Despite knowing what was in store Wednesday morning, it was still painful to hear the judge's words, he said.
"My mouth dropped," he said. "We expected it but to really hear it is another thing."
Rosario Escobedo and Yessica Escobedo's mother, Sara Guerrero,also said they could not adequately prepare.
"It's a sense of relief, but no matter what, things will never be the same," said Escobedo, her eyes welling with tears. Tears also trickled down Guerrero's face.
Escobedo said she thought her son moved from Texas to Florida to escape the drug trade.
"He said 'I know I need to get out of this,'" she recalled. "I thought he was working a real job here. And even though he was involved in drugs, he wasn't a violent person, never carried guns and was never in trouble."
Staff Writer Vanessa Blum contributed to this report. Missy Diaz can be reached at mdiaz@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5505.