A judge sentenced one man to seven consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday, and a jury recommended death for two other men in the 2004 baseball bat slayings of six people in Deltona over an Xbox video game system.
The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated for almost three hours before making its recommendation to Chief Circuit Judge Bill Parsons. The jury recommended death for ringleader Troy Victorino, 29, and Jerone Hunter, 20, and life in prison for Michael Salas, 20.
Parsons sentenced Salas to seven consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole. He will also decide on sentences for Victorino and Hunter, taking into account the jury's recommendation. Parsons did not set a date for their sentencing.
"I just wanted to tell the victims' families that I'm truly sorry," Salas said prior to being sentenced. He said that he made a "mistake I will live with for the rest of my life."
Officials said one of the victims in the case, Erin Belanger, had Victorino evicted from her grandmother's vacant house in Deltona. He became angry when she kept his video game system and some clothing, so he organized the August 2004 killings at another Deltona home, prosecutors said.
Victorino, Hunter and Salas were convicted last week of six counts of first-degree murder.
The jury recommended death on four of the six counts for both Victorino and Hunter. Each man was recommended to be sentenced to death for the murders of different victims. Both men also got a recommendation of life in prison for the remaining two deaths.
Salas received a life recommendation on all counts.
As the recommendations were read, Victorino did not make eye contact with the jury. Hunter flinched when the first recommendation for death was read but kept his composure, looking straight in front of him. Salas leaned back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief when all the verdicts indicated the jury did not recommend death for him.
"He took my baby from me," Erin Belanger's father, Bill, said after the jury's recommended Victorino be put to death. "Jesus Christ can forgive, but I can't. Not yet, anyway."
Kay Shukwit, the mother of victim Michelle Nathan, said she was satisfied with the recommendation of life in prison for Salas and said he was not as "evil and vicious" as the other two men.
She said death for Hunter, who was said to have killed her daughter, will be a lot easier than the "suffering" and "horror" her daughter faced. Still, Shukwit said the recommendations did not bring any closure.
"Closure would be for someone to walk up to my front door with Michelle and say 'Here's your daughter back,"' she said.
Steve Nathan, Michelle's father, said the death penalty did not really make a difference to him. He said he did not know how to react to the recommendations.
"I'm just happy, I guess," he said.
In closing arguments, State Attorney John Tanner had urged jurors to recommend the death penalty for all three men, saying the bloody frenzy turned into "a thrill killing."
But defense attorneys said in closing arguments that their clients should be sentenced to life in prison because of their mental illnesses.
Defense attorney Michael Nielsen said Victorino suffers from severe mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, while Ed Mills, Hunter's attorney, argued his client should not receive the death penalty because he suffers from schizophrenia.
Jeff Dees, Salas's attorney, said his client, who admitted swinging a baseball bat in the attacks, was a minor participant. He also said Salas had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A fourth defendant, Robert Cannon, pleaded guilty in October to all the charges. But when he took the stand early in the trial, he refused to testify and said he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea because he was innocent. Parsons hasn't decided whether he will allow the change.