The jury that convicted three men of viciously beating six people to death in a revenge slaying over an Xbox video game system earlier in the week returned to the St. Augustine courtroom Thursday began the process of recommending whether they should be put to death for the crimes.
The seven women and five men who convicted Troy Victorino, Michael Salas and Jerone Hunter heard emotional testimony from relatives of the victims.
Bill Belanger said the death of his only child, Erin, was the worst horror he or any other family member could have imagined.
"This vicious and cowardly attack and her resulting dismemberment ... we were not even given the opportunity to view her body in death," Belanger said.
Erin Belanger and five others were savagely beaten two years ago after she evicted a man she found living in her grandmother's home. Prosecutors say the killings were in revenge because Belanger kept the man's Xbox video system and some clothing.
Prosecutors said Victorino organized the baseball bat attacks in 2004 because he was angry with one of the victims who had him evicted when she found him living in her grandmother's home. She kept some of his belongings, including clothing and the video game system.
The six victims were friends who were at a Deltona house when they were viciously beaten with bats. Their bodies were also cut and mutilated.
Allyson Prevo, a friend of one of the six victims killed in a house on Aug. 6, 2004, described the graphic testimony as "worse than any horror movie."
Prosecutors said Victorino, 29, organized the attacks after victim Erin Belanger, 22, had him evicted from her grandmother's vacant house, where he had been squatting. She kept some of his belongings, including clothing and the video game system, which retails for between $150-$400.
Victorino testified he was drinking with friends at a restaurant at the time of the killings, although DNA evidence tied him to the scene. Salas and Hunter, both 20, admitted hitting several victims, but denied inflicting the fatal blows.
Defense attorneys said their clients were shocked and disappointed at the trial's outcome. Victorino and Hunter both showed little reaction as the verdicts against were read. Salas shook his head and cried.
The men's attorneys said they would now focus on the sentencing phase, scheduled to begin Thursday and last two to three days. The jury will recommend whether the men should receive life in prison or lethal injection.
"We still have to save Mr. Victorino's life. His life is on us," said Jeff Dowdy, one of his attorneys.
Victims' relatives in the courtroom mostly nodded as each guilty verdict was returned, and some held hands. "We're really pleased with the verdict," said Mark Shukwit, the stepfather of victim Michelle Nathan, 19.
Along with Belanger and Nathan, the victims found in the Deltona home were Francisco Ayo-Roman, 30, Roberto Gonzalez, 28, Anthony Vega, 34, and Jonathan Gleason, 17.
A fourth defendant, Robert Cannon, 20, 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. Chief Circuit Judge Bill Parsons hasn't decided whether he will allow the change.
The sentencing hearing is expected to last two or three days.
The jury can recommend life death by lethal injuction or life in prison or the life in prison. The judge will formally sentence Victorino, Salas and Hunter after the jury makes its decision.