Eight years after the mutilated body of Miami interior designer Camilo Salazar was discovered in a rural field near the Everglades, jurors late Thursday convicted two men for their roles in his violent death.
Alexis Vila Perdomo, a former Cuban Olympic wrestling champ and pro mixed martial arts fighter, was convicted of conspiracy for helping arrange the murder.
His associate, Roberto Isaac, 63, was convicted of second-degree murder — jurors believed he carried out the killing at the behest of Manuel Marin, the former owner of a string of Presidente supermarkets.
Salazar’s widow, Daisy Holcombe, erupted into tears when the verdict was read just after 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Jurors deliberated for less than two hours.
“Justice was served,” she repeated tearfully, as she hugged prosecutors and supporters.
Holcombe, accompanied by her family and supporters, declined to comment as she left the courthouse.
“We’re very satisfied. We thank the jurors for their thoughtful work,” said Miami-Dade prosecutor Gail Levine, who tried the case with prosecutor Justin Funck.
Isaac faces up to life in prison. He was convicted of second-degree murder — although jurors did not find prosecutors proved he committed the killing using a deadly weapon — as well as conspiracy and kidnapping. Vila, who was not accused of participating in the murder itself, faces up to 30 years in prison for the conspiracy conviction.
They’ll be sentenced on Dec. 3. “We were really surprised at the speed of the verdict. I always thought we had a shot at winning,” said Vila’s defense lawyer, Ted Mastos.
Prosecutors said Marin masterminded the murder plot because Salazar had been cheating with his wife, Jenny Marin.
The verdict ended one chapter of the long-running saga that became public when Salazar’s body was discovered in an isolated West Miami-Dade field in June 2011. He had been beaten viciously, possibly with a golf club, his throat slit, his genitals torched.
Salazar, at the time, was married with an infant daughter. He was an interior designer who was also a player in a sport called Ultimate Frisbee. Unbeknownst to his wife, Salazar had started a secret romance with Jenny Marin, a mother of two who had grown lonely and isolated in her marriage with the supermarket magnate.
“I’m not here to tell you Camilo was a great guy for cheating on his wife. You don’t get kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the most gruesome way because you had an affair,” Levine told jurors. “You know what you get in the United States of America. You get a divorce. ... But Marin, he was machisimo. He was going to kill Camilo.”
Vila, 48, is a former MMA fighter and Cuban Olympic medalist in wrestling. He was close with Marin, prosecutors said, working at a Presidente store stocking shelves while training Marin’s son in wrestling.
At the time of the murder, he was training in Las Vegas for a fight, but was accused of organizing the murder plot on the phone.
His defense lawyer, Mastos, said prosecutors didn’t prove Vila’s phone calls were part of a plan for murder. He likened the state’s case to the 1980s Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” ad campaign.
“The state has given you a stale bun,” Mastos said. “There’s no beef.”
Marin, after spending years on the lam in Spain, is now in a Miami-Dade jail awaiting his trial next year. Since he was publicly implicated, the chain has downplayed Marin’s role in the company, saying he was “simply a part-owner of a few stores.” The company’s owner website, however, once described him as a co-founder of the chain, as did news stories on the chain’s rapid growth.
During the trial, jurors heard a tale of lust and revenge worthy of a telenovela. Among the witnesses:
▪ Marin’s former wife, Jenny Marin, told jurors about the secret affair that enraged her husband — and how he vanished from the country after her lover’s violent murder. She “broke the case” days after the murder after revealing to police that her husband had fled Florida, Levine said.
▪ Ex-MMA fighter Ariel “The Panther” Gandulla, who is serving 36 months for kidnapping, detailed how he said he was duped into helping whisk Salazar off a Miami street. He identified Isaac as the main kidnapper, and Vila as playing a pivotal role via telephone from Las Vegas, where he was training for a bout.
Vila, by phone, later apologized for getting him “involved in this,” testified Gandulla, who voluntarily returned from refuge in Canada to accept the plea deal.
“He did not need to be hands on. In fact, it was better for him to be out of town,” Levine said of Vila. “That would throw the trail off and thwart the investigation — until it didn’t.”
Defense lawyers countered that Gandulla gave a bogus story in exchange for a lenient plea deal.
“He could be raw-dog lying,” Isaac’s defense lawyer, Michael Walsh, told jurors.
▪ A cellphone expert who detailed the geographic locations and call traffic of Isaac, Marin and Vila’s cellphones. He said Isaac and Marin’s phones were together in the same area near the Everglades where Salazar was tortured, murdered and set on fire.
Walsh said the phone records “don’t prove anything.” Levine said the cellphone records were overwhelming evidence — noting the calls between the men stopped after the murder.
“You can’t burn a cellphone tower,” Levine said. “You can’t burn the official records of your cellphone calls.”
After the verdict, Walsh said he was “disappointed.”
“It’s really disappointing that they took the word of Gandulla and eight-year-old cellphone records,” Walsh said, adding: “ I guess there’s a sucker born every minute.”