In the hot summer months of 2004

    November 15, 2022

In the hot summer months of 2004, Troy Victorino and friends Robert Cannon, Jerome Hunter, and Michael Salas were ille-gally squatting in a Deltona, Florida, home and using it as a “party house.” The owners, who were spending the summer in Maine, asked their granddaughter, Erin Belanger, to check up on the property. When she saw what was going on, she called the police in order to get the squatters removed from the premises. Victorino (who was in jail on an unrelated matter at the time his friends were evicted) left behind an Xbox game system and some clothes, and Belanger took possession of these items. Once he was released from jail on bond, Victorino, feeling disrespected because the police had been called and his stuff confiscated, threatened Belanger and slashed the tires on her car. He warned her that unless she returned the items, he was going to come back and beat her with a baseball bat while she was sleeping. It was not an idle threat. On August 6, 2004, in what is now known either as the Xbox murders or the Deltona massacre, Victorino, Cannon, Hunter, and Salas armed themselves with aluminum bats, put on all-black clothing, covered their faces with scarves, kicked in the front door, and attacked Belanger and her roommates as they slept. All six victims, including Erin Belanger, were beaten and stabbed beyond recognition. All six died. The perpetrators of the deadly attack left a trail of clues that resulted in their quick arrest and indictment on murder charges. It was a pretty sad bunch; they all seemed to have lived troubled lives. Michael Salas was abused even before his birth by his mother, who used drugs during her pregnancy, traded food stamps for cocaine, and left her three sons alone for long periods during the winter. Child protective services found cigarette burns on the boys’ bodies. Salas’s father died of AIDS when Salas was 9. Hunter is a man with clinical depression and mental illness whose parents were both committed to mental hospitals at the time of the massacre. As early as age 3, Hunter conversed with his identical twin brother, Jeremy, who died from pneumonia at 6 months old. But it was Victorino, a six foot six, 300-pound career criminal, who most outraged the public. He had spent 8 of the last 11 years before the killings serving prison sentences for a variety of crimes, including auto theft, battery, arson, burglary, and theft. In 1996, he beat a man so severely that doctors needed 15 titanium plates to rebuild the victim’s face. Not surprisingly, Victorino also had a long history of physical and sexual abuse that began at the time he was 2 years old. He suffered from neurological impairment that resulted in poor impulse control and the inability to manage his violent temper.  

The Xbox killers followed a classic developmental path: early abuse and problems in childhood leading to a long and sustained criminal career. These killers did not age out of crime but persisted and escalated their criminal involvement until it culminated in unspeakable tragedy. Despite their personal problems, on August 2, 2006, Victorino and Hunter were sentenced to death by lethal injection, and Cannon and Salas to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Victorino and Hunter remain on death row at the Florida State Prison in Starke because the average length of incarceration of a Florida inmate prior to execution is more than 10 years. The governor has been asked to review the sentence in light of the troubled histories of Victorino and Hunter.

Writing Assignment

Addressing the following questions:  Would it be ethical to execute someone who has had a horrendous upbringing? Anti-death penalty groups have asked him to consider commuting the sentences to life in prison in consideration of their childhood traumas. He has asked for your opinion on the matter. Do you believe that developmental factors should mitigate their culpability in the case? Conversely, would it be fair to execute someone who commits a similar crime just because they had a relatively problem-free childhood?

Answer And Explanation

I believe that developmental factors should be taken into consideration when determining culpability. It is not fair to judge someone who has had a difficult upbringing in the same way as someone who has not. The defendants in this case have clearly had a number of issues that have contributed to their criminal behaviour. This does not excuse their actions, but it does mitigate their culpability to some extent.

 I do not believe that it would be fair to execute someone who commits a similar crime just because they had a relatively problem-free childhood. While a person’s upbringing may be a factor in their criminal behavior, it is also possible that the person could have made different choices regardless of their circumstances. In the case of the Xbox killers, it is clear that their upbringing was a factor in their criminal behavior. However, it is also clear that they made a choice to commit murder, and that choice should be considered when determining their sentence.

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