Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday in the sensational kidnapping and murder trial of a wealthy former supermarket magnate accused of masterminding a plot to kill his wife’s lover.
Three other men involved in the 2011 slaying have already received prison sentences ranging from three years to life. Camilo Salazar, who installed interior home blinds, was kidnapped and driven to a West Miami-Dade field on the edge of the Everglades, where he was burned alive and his throat was slit.
Prosecutors contend that Manuel Marin, who owned several Presidente Supermarkets in South Florida and New Jersey, took part in and orchestrated the murder of Salazar out of jealousy after discovering he was sleeping with his wife, Jenny Marin.
As the almost two-week-long trial neared conclusion, jurors were left struggling with two main questions: Were Miami-Dade state prosecutors able to place Marin at the scene of the murder and did they prove he was complicit in the crime?
At trial, Jenny Marin testified her husband warned her the affair could end tragically if she didn’t cut ties with Salazar. And star witness and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Ariel “The Panther” Gandulla said he saw Manuel Marin and another man place Salazar, his hands and feet bound, in Marin’s Mercedes the day of the murder.
But nobody testified that Marin gave them instructions to kill Salazar. And though Gandulla saw Salazar and Marin together the day of the murder, it was at an office park in Fort Lauderdale several miles north of the suspected murder scene.
Marin, 69, has been charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. They are charges that would likely land him in prison for the rest of his life. Prosecutors say the former corporate executive recruited Gandulla, another MMA fighter named Alexis Vila Perdomo and Latin Kings gang member Roberto Isaac to abduct Salazar and kill him.
Emotions in the courtroom ran high Wednesday, especially when former Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Emma Lew described Salazar’s death in gruesome detail. At one point, as she explained how a knife severed his windpipe and his jaw had been broken with something more powerful than a human hand, friends and family of Salazar were escorted out of the courtroom, some in tears and sobbing loudly.
Jurors paid rapt attention — some taking notes — as Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Jonathan Borst had Lew approach the jury box with pictures explaining how Salazar was alive during much of the beating. Lew said investigators were only able to identify Salazar’s body, charred beyond recognition, through dental records.
When Borst finished with Lew, Marin defense attorney Jose Quinon had one question for the former medical examiner: Was it her job to determine who killed Salazar? “No,” Lew replied.
Then, Just before noon, the state rested its case. Defense attorney Quinon didn’t call any witnesses. Closing arguments followed.
At closing, Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Justin Funck explained how Marin’s carefully choreographed plan to kill Salazar was only sidetracked when bad weather delayed Marin’s return from a boat trip to Bimini by a day. The prosecutor said that on the morning of June 1, 2011, when Salazar was abducted by Isaac and Gandulla, cellphone records show Isaac tried to contact Marin 53 times.
He told jurors only Marin had the hatred and the motive to “burn Camilo Salazar’s genitals off.”
“Manuel Marin is the match that lit the fire,” Funck said. “His ego, his pride, his machismo, that was the gasoline.”
But Marin’s defense attorney Jose Quinon had a different take. He said the plan was initiated by Marin’s good friend from Cuba, Perdomo, who recruited Isaac and Gandulla to rough up Salazar for his affair with Marin’s wife. But that changed, Quinon said, when Isaac brought Salazar into his home tied up for three hours. He said Isaac was well aware kidnapping could land him in prison for life and decided Salazar had to die.
“You have a smoking gun of circumstantial evidence that Mr. Isaac killed Mr. Salazar,” Quinon told jurors. “But there is no physical evidence and no direct evidence that Mr. Marin committed the crime in this case.”
According to state prosecutors, on the morning of the murder Isaac picked up Gandulla at his Kendall apartment with the ruse that he needed help cashing a check. That, however, led to a day-long journey in which the duo found Salazar in Coconut Grove, watched him, then handcuffed him and stuck him in the back of a truck Isaac had rented.
They say Isaac desperately tried contacting Marin while at Isaac’s Wynwood home. But he couldn’t reach him because his return from a trip to Bimini aboard his yacht was delayed by bad weather. After Marin got home, prosecutors contend, he drove his blue Mercedes to near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where he met the duo in the truck and where Salazar was transferred to Marin’s vehicle. From there, prosecutors allege, Marin and Isaac drove to the West Miami-Dade field at the edge of the Everglades and tortured Salazar until he died.
Gandulla, who has a wife and two children, fled to Canada after the incident. He worked out a deal with prosecutors to testify in exchange for a three-year sentence for kidnapping Salazar. Issac and Perdomo were sentenced to prison for murder and kidnapping in 2019. Perdomo is serving a 15-year sentence. Isaac is imprisoned for life.
Prosecutors say that within a week of Salazar’s death, Marin gave up his luxurious lifestyle — a Lighthouse Point mansion and a yacht he often took to the Bahamas — and fled first to New Jersey, then to Paris and finally to Spain. He showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid in 2018, where the FBI took him into custody. He was considered a fugitive for four years.
Jurors were sent home just after 6 p.m. Wednesday and are expected to continue deliberations at 10 a.m. Thursday.