110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 26, 2011 - 8:30:07am
Circuit Judge William Parsons is expected to deliberate on Troy Victorino’s request for a new trial through the holidays, and issue a ruling in January. In 2006, Victorino was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of six people on Telford Lane in Deltona, and sentenced to death.
Parsons heard several hours of testimony Dec. 14, as court-appointed post-conviction attorney Chris Anderson argued that Victorino is entitled to a new trial.
Victorino has denied being involved in the Telford Lane murders in any way whatsoever.
Anderson hammered at Victorino’s trial lawyers, Jeff Dowdy and Michael Nielsen, suggesting that they did not give Victorino proper representation.
The admission of gruesome crime-scene photos and a 911 tape prejudiced the jury against Victorino, Anderson suggested. Dowdy and Nielsen responded that this evidence was covered in pretrial hearings, and they sometimes didn’t object so as to avoid upsetting jurors.
Anderson also said co-defendant Robert Cannon’s “shutting down” when he was on the witness stand didn’t allow for effective cross-examination. Nor was Victorino a “ringleader” in the murders, as portrayed, Anderson said.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Ken Nunnelley argued, however, that Cannon’s testimony was far less significant than other testimony in putting Victorino in the Telford Lane home in Deltona on a dark night in August 2004, when six people at that home were bludgeoned with baseball bats and stabbed and slashed by knife.
The victims were Erin Belanger, 22, Francisco Ayo-Roman, 30, Jonathan Gleason, 17, Roberto Gonzalez 28, Michelle Nathan, 19, and Anthony Vega, 34.
The case became known worldwide as the “Xbox murders” because they appeared to be fueled in part by Victorino being enraged over an Xbox game he was convinced victim Belanger had taken from him after he was forced to leave the home of Belanger’s grandmother. Victorino and some other people had been squatting there.
Belanger’s body was the most savaged of the six victims. Her little dog, George, was stomped to death.
All four defendants — Victorino, Cannon, Michael Salas and Jerone Hunter — were convicted of the murders and related charges. Victorino and Hunter were both sentenced to death, while Cannon and Salas received life sentences. The Florida Supreme Court has upheld death sentences for both Hunter and Victorino.
In October, Hunter’s attorney argued before Parsons for a new trial. The judge’s order in that case is also expected in January.
The appeals process explained
An appeal to the Florida Supreme Court is automatic in all capital cases. That’s the first step after trial and conviction, 7th Judicial Circuit Public Defender James Purdy explained.
The Public Defender’s Office did not represent any of the defendants in this case, due to potential conflicts with its attorneys representing multiple defendants. All four defendants were represented by court-appointed counsel.
If the Supreme Court confirms the death penalty, as it did for both Victorino and Hunter, the next step is a motion for post-conviction relief, filed in the same court where the defendant was convicted.
In this hearing, issues that were not addressed in the trial can be addressed. The claim of ineffective counsel is one of the most common, Purdy said. Also, newly discovered evidence can be brought up.
Purdy said if DNA evidence had been central to the conviction, issues surrounding it would probably have come up during the post-conviction hearing.
Victorino’s attorney had planned to bring a claim that DNA evidence in the trial had been contaminated in the state lab, which had received dirty vials at the time evidence in the Deltona homicides was processed. However, Anderson dropped that approach at the last minute.
Purdy said a motion and hearing should take up everything that happened, including the question of whether the trial was fair, and whether there was due process and competent counsel.
If Judge Parsons denies Victorino’s and Hunter’s motions for new trials, that decision can also be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
There are limits to appeals, Purdy said. “Everything is supposed to be raised on the motion for post-conviction relief,” and that motion needs to be brought within two years of the Supreme Court affirming the conviction. Exceptions would be for new evidence or new case law.
If the Florida Supreme Court upholds the circuit court, an appeal can be made in federal court, to see if the federal court agrees with the state court.
So, there are three bites at the apple, Purdy said — trial and appeal, post-conviction hearing and appeal, and federal-court appeal.
As of Dec. 20, death row housed 395 people, the Florida Department of Corrections said.
Of those, 40 had exhausted the appeals process and awaited the signature of Gov. Rick Scott on a death warrant, required before execution can be carried out. There have been 70 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
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