Xbox killer's lawyer: He had troubled life, low IQ


Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 31, 2006 at 11:53 p.m.
ST. AUGUSTINE - A convicted killer was "too scared and unintelligent" to resist his co-defendant's plans to kill six people, a psychiatrist told jurors Monday in the penalty phase of the murder trial for the revenge slayings over an Xbox video game system.
An attorney for Michael Salas, 20, was putting on his case to keep his client off Death Row. He was convicted last week along with the group's ringleader, Troy Victorino, and another man of first-degree murder for beating six people to death with baseball bats at a Deltona home in August 2004.
The jury will recommend whether the men should receive life in prison or the death penalty. It takes only a majority vote to recommend a death sentence.
"Michael Salas will die in prison. Your verdict finding him guilty of first-degree murder assured it," his attorney Jeff Dees told jurors.
Michael Maher, a physician and psychiatrist in Tampa, told jurors that Salas was following orders from Victorino, 29. Maher said Salas told him he participated in the attack, but did not believe he killed anyone.
"This is a young, immature kid, with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with a low IQ, who is small and frail. He goes along with the crowd," Maher said.
Salas has an IQ level between 81 and 84, he said.
Maher and Salas' aunt, Stephanie Salas, a physician from Pensacola, painted a bleak picture of his early life. His mother abused heroin and alcohol when she was pregnant, they said. His father also used heroin and drank to excess.
"It is a very bad thing for a human being to be in the womb of a mother who is using drugs and alcohol," Maher said.
His mother left when he was 4 years old and his father died of an AIDS-related illness when he was 9, the witnesses testified.
After his father's death, Salas and his two brothers moved in with grandmother, Anna, who was also caring for other children and her husband, who had severe medical problems.
Stephanie Salas said her nephew suffered from ADHD and was forced to repeat the third and eighth grades before dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
Alan Berns, a psychiatrist in Lake Mary, reviewed Jerone Hunter's background and said he had serious mental problems.
Hunter's father has been treated for schizophrenia and his mother was treated for depression, increasing the risk of mental illness in Jerone Hunter.
"It's very likely that he has schizophrenia," Berns said.
Hunter's mother, Annette Washington, and his brother, Elisha Hunter, testified that Jerone often talked and played with his deceased identical twin brother, Jeremy, who died when they were six months old.
Prosecutors said victim Erin Belanger, 22, had Victorino and some of his friends evicted from her grandmother's vacant house in Deltona. He became angry when she kept his video game system and some clothing, so he organized the killings, prosecutors said.
A fourth defendant, Robert Cannon, 20, pleaded guilty in October to all the charges. But when he took the stand early in the trial, he refused to testify and said he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea because he was innocent. Chief Circuit Judge Bill Parsons hasn't decided whether he will allow the change.

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