Florida's new death penalty law will be used in 'Xbox murders' retrial
VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - The re-sentencing trial for a pair of convicted killers in the Deltona Xbox murders will continue, following an order handed down by a local appeals court.
The proceedings are to determine if 46-year-old Troy Victorino and 36-year-old Jerone Hunter will receive the death penalty. The pair joined two other men to kill six roommates in 2004. They had a previous death penalty overturned due to a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.
Victorino and Hunter had their trial stayed less than a week into the proceedings. The judge was seemingly blindsided by a motion requesting that he abide by new death penalty laws. The new rule signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis states all death penalties must be carried out with an 8-4 jury vote. The judge, instead, was going through with the trial on the previous unanimous rule.
The instruction issued by the Fifth District Court of Appeal states, "The trial court is directed to apply the current version of 921.141, Florida Statutes." It goes on to note the stay put in place has been lifted "immediately."
The timeline for when the trial will continue is unknown.
Why is there a penalty phase retrial in the Xbox murders?
New trials were ordered for Troy Victorino and Jerone Hunter nearly two decades after six people and a dog were killed inside a Deltona, Florida home.
Four men, Troy Victorino, Jerone Hunter, Michael Salas, and Robert Cannon, were all convicted in what has been dubbed "the Xbox murders," because prosecutors argued that the motive behind the home invasion and brutal murders was to retrieve an Xbox claimed to have been stolen.
Salas and Cannon were sentenced to life in prison. Victorino, the ringleader, and Hunter were sentenced to death for the 2004 slayings but the juries' decisions at the time were not unanimous. A later change to state law decided that Florida’s death penalty had to be unanimous – and anyone sentenced after a 2002 ruling could be eligible for a new sentence – so their sentences were overturned and switched to life in prison.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law ending a unanimous jury requirement in death penalty sentencing. The new law, which went into effect as soon as the governor signed it, allows capital punishment in Florida with a jury recommendation of at least 8 to 4 in favor of execution.
For decades, Florida had not required unanimity in capital punishment, allowing a judge to impose capital punishment as long as a majority of jurors were in favor of the penalty. But in 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court threw out state law, saying it allowed judges too much discretion.
The state Legislature then passed a bill requiring a 10 to 2 jury recommendation, but the state Supreme Court said such recommendations should be unanimous, prompting lawmakers in 2017 to require a unanimous jury.
Three years later, the state Supreme Court, with new conservative jurists appointed by DeSantis, rescinded its earlier decision and ruled that a death recommendation does not need to be unanimous. Florida’s unanimity standard had remained untouched until the passage of the 2023 law, which was a response to a verdict that spared the life of the Parkland school shooter who killed 17 people.
Who were the victims of the Xbox murders?
On August 6, 2004, deputies with the Volusia Couty Sheriff's Office said four men broke into a home in Deltona, where they used bats and knives to brutally kill the six roommates who shared the house – all because one of them allegedly took things from Victorino, including an Xbox game console.
Albert Yonfa, a partner at Orlando law firm Nejame Law, said the crime was shocking. "The heinousness of this crime is just horrific what these individuals were convicted of."
Prosecutors said Victorino orchestrated the murders. Killed were Erin Belanger, 22; Jonathan Gleason, 17; Roberto Gonzalez, 28; Francisco Roman, 30; Michelle Nathan, 19; and Anthony Vega, 34. A dog was also killed.