Xbox Murder Trial on Hold After Death Penalty Dispute

May 10, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Page Updated March 19, 2024

Nearly two decades after the gruesome “Xbox Killings,” the Deltona case began its retrial for two of the defendants. The 2004 murder case received mass attention due to its graphic context and seemingly odd motive.

In 2023, the case was halted due to a new change in Florida’s death penalty statute. This page will provide the case details, along with the current issues preventing the retrial from continuing.

Xbox Murder Case

On August 6th, 2004, six individuals were beaten to death inside a Deltona, Florida home. According to the report, Troy Victorino, 27, had previously squatted in a home owned by the Belanger family and used the property as a party house.

Erin Belanger, 22, the granddaughter of the homeowners, evicted Victorino from the house. The supposed motive for the crime was due to leftover clothing and an Xbox console remaining in the home, which belonged to Victorino.

Victorino and three other men allegedly kicked in the front locked door to the home, carrying baseball bats and knives. Once inside, the four men violently attacked the six victims in the home. The victims’ deaths were caused by being clubbed and stabbed to death.

The slain victims include Erin Belanger, Michelle Nathan, 19, Francisco Ayo-Roman, 30, Anthony Vega, 34, Roberto Gonzalez, 28, and Jonathan Gleason, 18. According to one report, the victim’s dog was also ‘stomped to death.’

The prosecution claimed that when one man suggested wearing masks into the home, ringleader Victorino responded that it would not be necessary, as he intended to not leave any person or evidence behind. However, there were traces of blood evidence in nearly every room.

Victorino, Jerone Hunt, Michael Sala, and Robert Cannon were all convicted of the murders. Salas and Cannon were sentenced to life imprisonment, whereas Victorino and Hunter received the death penalty.

In 2017, the death sentences were overturned by a judge, citing a 2016 Supreme Court decision that jury recommendations must be unanimous for a judge to sentence a convicted person to death.

A penalty phase re-trial of Victorino, now 46, and Hunter, now 36, began jury selection on Monday, April 10, 2023. The jury was not asked to reconsider the two men’s guilt. Instead, they had to decide how both must pay for the gruesome crime they committed.

The most recent update with the “Xbox Killings” trial is the 5th District Court of Appeals ordering a halt in the trial due to Florida’s new death penalty statute.

SB 450 and Florida’s Death Penalty

In April 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis amended Florida’s death penalty statute to change the standard of unanimous votes in sentencing.

Instead of requiring a unanimous jury vote, the law now allows for an eight out of twelve-jury vote in favor of capital punishment. If the jury votes in favor of the death penalty, the judge then has the final say in ruling for capital punishment or for life imprisonment.

Over the years, the state of Florida has changed its legislation on death penalty sentencing multiple times. It was once switched from a simple majority to a 10-2 jury vote after the U.S. Supreme Court claimed the process was unconstitutional. In 2016, it was later changed to a unanimous recommendation.

On April 20th, 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 450, which would once again change the requirements for the State’s death penalty process. The bill comes after Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was given life imprisonment after the 2018 massacre.

“Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I’m proud to sign legislation that will prevent families from having to endure what the Parkland families have and ensure proper justice will be served in the state of Florida.”

5th District Court of Appeal’s Order 

The 5th District Court of Appeals has ordered a halt in the Xbox mass murder re-trial, due to Florida’s most recent change in its death penalty statute. The case’s retrial began on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, to re-sentence Troy Victorino and Jerone Hunter for first-degree murder.

The issue with the case is whether the jury will use the previous or new death penalty procedure. During the defendants’ first trial in 2006, they did not receive a unanimous recommendation for capital punishment.

When the 15 jurors appeared in court on Thursday morning, they were quickly sent home by Circuit Judge Randall Rowe III. The statement read by Judge Rowe stated:

“An emergency beyond the control of the parties and the court requires us to take a pause in this trial. You are instructed to continue to follow my order to not research anything about the case or discuss the case or your jury service with anyone. We will contact you to let you know when you need to return as soon as we know. I cannot tell you when that may be but everyone is working hard to resume trial as quickly as possible.”

Judge Rowe ordered the prosecutors to use the previous law, requiring the unanimous jury recommendation for death. However, the prosecution requested for the trial to stop to challenge Judge Rowe’s denial of implementing the State’s newest death penalty statute.

According to the motion by the Attorney General’s Office, the jury had not been sworn in when the new death penalty law was signed into effect. The motion argues that the trial should proceed under the new law.

However, Judge Rowe argued that the law states a new trial begins with its jury selection. According to Judge Rowe, the jury was selected ten days prior to the new statute being signed into law. The Judge claimed that the jury was selected and given questions based on the previous law requiring unanimity and that implementing the new law would create confusion and be unfair to the existing jury.

The motion filed by Assistant State Attorney Andrew Urbanak argued that the 15-person jury panel was sworn in after Gov. DeSantis signed the new death penalty statute into law.

On May 16, 2023, Circuit Judge Randell H. Row III officially declared a mistrial after stating, “I think we’re out of options.”

Reasons for the mistrial were due to concerns over witnesses and schedules for the jurors, and other methods that would be required to move forward. However, there were multiple conflicts brought up, and two jurors were dismissed due to hardship issues. Both counsels agreed there was no way to move forward with the current case, even after debating only having an 11-person jury.

Florida Supreme Court Addresses Overstep in Legal Authority

Several months after the Xbox Murders mistrial was announced, the Florida Supreme Court stated in a recent ruling that they should have held jurisdiction over the death penalty resentencing.

According to a local news report, a footnote from the Supreme Court addressed asserting jurisdiction “in cases in which a death sentence has been vacated and further penalty proceedings have been ordered.” In other words, the 5th District Court of Appeals (DCA) in Daytona Beach may have overstepped its jurisdiction by making the call in the legal battle over the death penalty changes.

Despite acknowledging the potential slip up, the Florida Supreme Court claimed it would be inappropriate to make any changes in the case after a mistrial has already been called.

“Its purpose is to prevent the doing of something, not to compel the undoing of something already done,” the Supreme Court’s ruling stated.

This response comes after Victorino and Hunter’s attorneys had their request denied for the Supreme Court to order the 5th DCA “to rescind its unconstitutional claim of jurisdiction over capital resentencing matter,” concluding that the issues is now moot.

Now that the mistrial has been called, prosecutors must wait until a new trial date is set to attempt to sentence the two Xbox Murder defendants.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you should prioritize reaching out to a criminal defense attorney in your area. The penalties for a criminal offense include stiff fines, probation, possible imprisonment, or all of the above. The best way to protect yourself and your future is by working with a skilled attorney who is prepared to fight for your case.

Don Pumphrey and his legal team have years of experience representing those who are falsely accused of a crime in Florida. We will provide top-quality defense while making sure your rights are protected. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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