Warning: this post contains graphic descriptions of violence.
I don't talk much about my day job, working for a small newspaper, but l've covered a big story in these parts and nationally, from its inception: the murders of six young people in a house one night in Deltona, FL, in August 2004.
Five of these people were living in the house, sharing expenses, and another one was visiting overnight, so he could hitch a ride to a new job the next morning.
They were beaten to pulps with aluminum baseball bats. They were stabbed. Their throats were slit posthumously.
One girl's body (apparently she and here boyfriend were the major targets) was raped with a baseball bat. It took tissue samples to made a positive ID on her, she was so badly bludgeoned.
Her little dachshund's body was found next to her. His head and snout had been crushed -- stomped.
That's it in a nutshell. There's some other gruesome stuff I've read in police reports or heard about. Enhanced details that may or not be true, and no need to list them here.
Four men are charged with the deeds, with going in in the dark hours of the night, surprising the sleeping victims and killing them.
I'll say up front, yes, I've read enough police reports, read enough depositions and heard enough witnesses to believe they are guilty.
Victorino, (I'm not going to use their first names) the defendant tagged as the ringleader, was 27 at the time, and the others were around 18.
The motive? This is what investigators and witnesses said:
(1) The main victim made Victorino mad, when she called the cops to get him and some of his friends out of her grandmother's vacation house, where they were squatting or staying. There's some dispute about whether she allowed them in, initially.
Victorino wasn't there to deal with the cops, because when deputies responded to the grandmother's house, he was in jail, arrested for beating the crap out of someone else. His record includes beating yet another man so badly, the victim required 20-some plates in his head. Victorino shoved a cane or bat down one of these victim's throat.
Victorino bonded out of jail a few days before the murders. He shouldn't have been allowed to post bond, because he was on probation for earlier offenses. An arrest is automatic grounds for termination of probation.
(2) The main victim took his XBox, clothing, and possibly a small stash of cocaine. Investigators denied the case involved any drugs, but one acquaintance said Victorino had a little in the house, which ended up at the victims' house.
According to law enforcement reports and the State Attorney's office, Victorino recruited the three younger men to go in with him. A fourth left town before the murders, afraid of Victorino.
Victorino has never confessed. All three co-defendants confessed initially, with resulting legal wrangling over the confessions. One confessed and later agreed to testify at the trial, in exchange for a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
I watched a joyous baptism at church Saturday night. As we cited the words of the baptismal covenant, I thought about the case.
"Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?" Fr. J asked.
The candidate answered, "I renounce them."
The acts committed against those six people were an affirmation of evil.
I don't understand the thought processes of someone capable of participating in an act like this.
The ringleader's mother (who always tried to get her sonny out of jail, from the time he was a teenager) talked of a caretaker's son sexually abusing her boy when he was a toddler.
But what makes someone commit these acts of violence, and have no remorse over them? Who seemingly has no conscience? No feelings for the victims or the victims' families, whose lives he's dragged through hell?
I've read the theories about psychopathic personalities. A major indicator seems to be repeated abuse, as an infant or very young child, generally at the hands of a parent.
That can't explain it all, or everyone who was so abused would turn into a murdering monster, and they don't, thank God.
The other day, I saw a little dachshund trotting alongside his master. There can hardly be a more defenseless creature. Yet the one is this case was stomped to death by someone 20 times his size.
The deliberate killing of such a little hostage to fate adds an exclamation point of horror to the already horrific.
The ringleader-defendant has steadfastly denied even being there the night of the murders. He's been in a jail in a neighboring county to keep him away from his codefendants, whose confessions all pointed at him as the one to organize, plan and lead the charge to murder.
And neither do I understand what would make these young men, the codefendants, who seemed to be little more than acquaintances, go along with this deliberate, planned act of murder and mayhem.
Did these young men think some of Victorino's strength and power would rub off on them? Victorino's a big man -- 6 feet, 5 inches, 270 pounds. "Wimpy-looking little guys" better fits the description of these three.
Does Victorino have some charisma that isn't apparent to me? Did he, like Manson, make these young men feel they belonged? That they were somebody, with him?
They seem to be purposeless young men, who floated around town, working a bit here and there, maybe selling a little pot or crack, before the murders.
I wonder what they think about now, in their jail cells. Do they wake up cold and sweaty with nightmares, hearts pounding? Do they recoil in horror at their memories? Are they sick and full of remorse?
Or are they just surprised they were caught?
Jury selection started on the case, and the judge had to grant a change of venue, after jury selection went to pieces in this county.