MIAMI – After having to stare at gruesome photos for hours, the jury started to deliberate Wednesday afternoon on the fate of Manuel Marin, a Cuban-American businessman accused of a murder-for-hire plot targeting Camilo Salazar, a romantic rival.
Assistant State Attorney Jonathan Borst showed photos of Salazar’s bruised and partially burned body while Dr. Emma Lew, the Miami-Dade medical examiner who performed the victim’s autopsy over a decade ago, testified in court. She also stood up and held up a photo for the jury to see.
“He had two cuts across the front of his neck,” Lew said adding that Salazar, a 43-year-old father from Coconut Grove, had suffered bone fractures and burns in his genital area, and he was still alive when someone slit his throat without hesitation.
A poster-size photo on an easel facing the jury showed Salazar, as detectives found him with his hands bound on June 1, 2011, in a desolated area along Okeechobee Road, while Assistant State Attorney Justin Funck delivered his closing statement.
“Manuel Marin is the match that lit the fire. Manuel Marin started striking that match on March 15. He set that fire and let it burn. He let Camilo Salazar burn,” Funck said referring to Marin’s first call to Isaac in March 2011. “His ego, his pride, his machismo — that was the gasoline.”
Detectives identified the trio who abducted and tortured Salazar before killing him as Roberto Isaac, a Latin Kings gang member; and MMA fighters Alexis Vila Perdomo and Ariel Gandulla.
Salazar, a married interior designer, vanished on June 1, 2011, after dropping off his baby girl at his wife’s office in Coconut Grove. Detectives said his family and friends later found his car in the office’s parking lot, as they frantically searched for him.
Funck cited cell phone and SunPass records as “direct evidence” of Marin’s involvement in Salazar’s murder. He also listed Marin’s bank and property transfers before the murder as evidence that there was a premeditated plan.
Attorney Jose M. Quiñon, who defended Marin, argued there was insufficient evidence to find Marin, a former Presidente Supermarkets partner, guilty of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder.
You are not guilty simply because you may be in some place or you may associate with someone who commits a crime,” Quiñon said.
Vila Perdomo, who was Marin’s friend because they were both Cuban and shared an interest in MMA, “is the one who decides that he is going to help his friend,” Quiñon said during his closing statement later adding, “The plan was to scare Salazar.”
Quiñon said Isaac, who is the “violent” gang member, was the one who decided to kill Salazar — without Marin’s knowledge. He also said Isaac was the one who smelled like gasoline and not Marin, who he described as a hardworking father and doting husband who had hired maids and cooks to help and even bought the house next door to give his wife a second pool.
The prosecution, Quiñon said, just didn’t have enough evidence or a reliable witness to affirm with certainty that Marin had killed Salazar.
“This killing is something that took place in a place where nobody knows who really killed Mr. Salazar,” Quiñon told the jury.
Funck disagreed and argued that Marin was the one who “decided” Salazar had to die and since the plan was to kidnap him and kill him they held Salazar at Isaac’s house until Marin arrived from his family trip to Bimini, an island in the Bahamas.
Funck said Gandulla had testified that he saw Marin and the blue Mercedes-Benz.
“Marin is waiting with the hatch-up, back of the Mercedes lined in plastic,” Funck
Before the closing statements and jury instructions, Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Miguel M. de la O asked Marin if he wanted to testify even though Quiñon, a former Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade County, had advised him not to.
With the help of a court translator, Marin told De la O that he had decided not to testify. Prosecutors also mentioned during the trial that Marin vanished a few days after the murder and surrendered to authorities in 2018 at a U.S. embassy in Spain to face charges in Miami-Dade.
In 2019, a jury found Isaac guilty of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder, and Vila Perdomo guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder. A judge sentenced Isaac to life in prison and Vila Perdomo to 15 years in prison.
As part of a plea agreement, a judge sentenced Gandulla to 36 months in prison, which he served. The Florida Department of Corrections released him on April 11, 2022. He testified in the cases of Isaac, Vila Perdomo, and most recently Marin.
Quiñon questioned Gandulla’s honesty and motives and he asked jurors to disregard his testimony. Funck asked the jury to consider Gandulla could have chosen to remain in Canada with his family, but instead he pleaded guilty to kidnapping out of remorse.
Before deliberations started, De la O decided to dismiss a juror saying he had spent most of the trial sleeping and an alternate juror took his place. If the jury unanimously agrees to convict Marin, he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.