The lengthy process of picking a jury began Wednesday for the trial of three men charged with brutally clubbing and stabbing six people two years ago in Deltona over an Xbox video game system.
At the end of the day, 13 prospective jurors from St. Johns County qualified to return Monday for more questioning. Attorneys need to gather more than 100 prospective jurors to pick from, said Linda Pruitt, a spokeswoman for State Attorney John Tanner.
The case was moved from DeLand to St. Augustine after it was determined media coverage of the case was too intense in central Florida, making it almost impossible to pick a fair jury.
About 120 potential jurors are being summoned each day and are being questioned by attorneys about their views on the death penalty and whether the trial, expected to last four to eight weeks, would be a hardship for them.
Channel 4's Melanie Lawson said only 35 of more than 100 potential jurors summoned for duty showed up Wednesday.
Troy Victorino, 29, a former prison inmate who is believed to be the ringleader in the violent attacks; Michael Salas, 20, and Jerone Hunter, 20, all face six counts of first-degree murder, five-counts of mutilating a dead human body and other felonies.
If the three men are convicted, prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
A fourth man, Robert Cannon, 19, pleaded guilty in October to all the charges. In exchange for his testimony for the prosecution, he will receive a life sentence.
Investigators and prosecutors said the alleged motive resulted when said Victorino became angry when Erin Belanger, 22, took his Xbox video game and some clothing from her grandparents' vacant home where he had been squatting.
In the middle of the night, a group of people entered the home and clubbed the victims with baseball bats and stabbed them.
Also killed in the Aug. 6, 2004, attack were Michelle Nathan, 19; Francisco Ayo-Roman, 30; Anthony Vega, 34; Roberto Gonzalez, 28, and Jonathan Gleason, 17. Most were co-workers at a Burger King in Deltona.
This is the second high-profile death-penalty case to be heard this summer in a St. Johns County courtroom.
Two weeks ago, a jury convicted Justin Barber of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife on the beach at Guana River State Park. That trial was televised nationally by Court TV.
This trial is also receiving extensive publicity, with TV stations and other media from Central Florida covering the proceedings.
Prosecutors said it could take two weeks to present their case, one week for the defense case, and then a penalty phase if the defendants are convicted.
The victims, some of whom were sleeping when the attack occurred about 1 a.m., did not put up a fight or try to escape. All were stabbed, but autopsies showed they died of the beatings.
Two small dogs were also massacred.
Kay Shukwit still shudders when she thinks about the final moments of her 19-year-old daughter's life.
"I think about the terror and horror, what they went through knowing they were going to die," Shukwit said.
Bill Belanger, Erin's father, said he plans to sit on the front row during the trial, hoping to see justice done in the killing of his daughter.
"It will be the end of a chapter. My life has been on hold since the day Erin was murdered. I have a life sentence."
While Belanger said he plans to attend trial every day, Shukwit said she doesn't know if she can deal with the strain.
"It does set you back mentally and physically, too," she said.
Both Belanger and Shukwit said they want the three defendants executed.
"I want Troy Victorino to sit on death row for 30 years, sit in a 6 by 9 cell, where he can no longer hurt or manipulate anybody ever again," Belanger said. "But it wouldn't break my heart if they did it in a week."
"I've always been in favor of the death penalty," Belanger said. "I'd flip the switch with no reservations."
Victorino's lawyer, Jeff Dowdy thinks it is unfair that his client has been labeled the mastermind behind the attacks.
"Everybody is going to be jumping on Troy, pointing a finger at him," said Dowdy, who said the judge had denied a motion for separate trials for the defendants, although some have already given statements about the killings. "That's unfair, and we have complained about that."
At the time of the slayings, Victorino was on a seven-year probation after serving six years in prison for beating a 20-year-old friend in the face with a walking stick. He was arrested eight days before the killings on a felony battery charge for beating up a friend and was quickly released on a $2,500 bond.
Dowdy said he also is worried about the impact of bloody pictures of the victims and the murder scene on jurors.
"It's going to be a bad day when they introduce those," Dowdy said.
"I just hope justice prevails. My daughter was such a beautiful person," Shukwit said. "It is a shame that she is gone."
- April 10, 2006: Judge Rules Suspect In Deltona Slayings Competent To Stand Trial
- April 10, 2006: Trial Of Six In 'X-Box' Murders Starts Today
- March 2, 2006: Judge Says Deltona Slayings Trial Will Remain In Volusia County
- March 24, 2005: Judge Seals Crime Scene, Autopsy Photos From Deltona Massacre
- February 21, 2005: Accused Ringleader In Deltona Slayings Says He Was Passed Out
- January 7, 2005: Witness In Deltona Slayings Says He Wants to Testify At Trial
- September 29, 2004: Deltona House Where 6 Were Killed Is Up For Sale
- September 14, 2004: Last Of 4 Accused In Deltona Slayings Pleads Not Guilty
- August 9, 2004: Men Accused In Brutal Slayings Denied Bond
- August 7, 2004: Six People Found Dead In Deltona Home