Nianthony Martinez, short, quiet, bespectacled and perpetually dressed in black, spent his days immersed in video games.
Angel Gamez, a former frat boy at Florida International University, worked as a power company customer service representative.
The two men, acquaintances from a high school military training program, became unlikely pals, forging their relationship over ninja-themed card games and an online role-playing game called World of Warcraft. It was a friendship, prosecutors say, that would entangle both in a plot to gun down a young woman who had become the lover of Martinez’s ex-girlfriend.
Last week, a Miami-Dade judge set a March 10 trial date for Martinez, 26, who faces life in prison for two counts of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, plus a gun charge. Prosecutors hold a powerful piece of evidence: a chilling audio confession from Martinez.
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Gamez, 28, has already pleaded guilty and also agreed to testify against his former buddy. He will serve 15 years in prison, plus 15 years of probation.
His attorney, Simon Steckel, said Gamez hoped to demonstrate his “complete remorse’’ for the “sad and tragic” event.
“It’s hard to believe these young men went from online dragons and elves, and a ninja card game, to the tragic shooting of these poor girls,” Steckel said.
It’s mainly luck that kept both men from facing murder charges.
In May 2008, after weeks of planning and a night of surveillance, Gamez — with Martinez in the passenger seat — pulled up alongside a car in West Miami-Dade. Inside that car: His ex-girlfriend, Marian Zorrilla, 23, and the woman he blamed for stealing her away — Oneida Cano, 25.
Clad in a hoodie and latex gloves, Martinez unleashed nine shots from a 9mm Glock pistol. Five rounds hit Cano in the driver seat, piercing her stomach and legs. Zorrilla, in the passenger seat, suffered a wound to the face — the bullet passing clean through her cheeks without even chipping a tooth .
Miraculously, both survived. As the two men sped off, Martinez looked back and saw Cano’s car swerve and continue driving, he later told Miami-Dade police.
“F**k,” Martinez recalled saying at the time. “I might have missed her entirely. … Like I’m going to jail for the rest of my life for having missed a person.”
Martinez does not deny the shooting. Instead, his attorney said he will claim insanity before jurors.
“He has significant mental health issues that impaired his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct,” said his defense attorney, Richard Della Fera.
The plan to murder Cano and Zorrilla is detailed in the defendants’ confessions to Miami-Dade police detectives that had previously not been made public.
The would-be killers and their intended victims had all known each other for years. Martinez, Gamez and the two girls attended Coral Park Senior High, where they all were part of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Gamez later attended FIU, where he joined the fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu and earned the frat nickname of “Squidward.” He also worked with Florida Power & Light.
Martinez, meanwhile, lived like a near-recluse in an apartment with his parents in West Miami-Dade. In court Friday, his parents said he aspired to a law enforcement or military career, and that he attended Miami Dade College, did not work and spent his days playing video games.
“He was kind of quiet, stayed at home. Pretty much never went out,” said his father, Antonio Martinez, after last week’s brief hearing.
The two men stayed connected through games of fantasy. One was World of Warcraft, a popular online video site where players create avatars and join an “Alliance’’ or “Horde” to battle assorted monsters or pursue heroic quests.
The other was a trading card game based on the best-selling Japanese comic book series Naruto, about a young ninja hero struggling for recognition in his village.
But it was his volatile relationship with Zorrilla that dominated Martinez’s real life. They dated for two and a half years during high school. Her relatives told police that Martinez’s relationship with Zorilla was “abusive and violent.”
Zorrilla and Martinez broke up some five times during the course of their relationship, the final time in the summer of 2007. “She came to my house and wanted, um, a video game system from me and I wouldn’t give it to her and then she never spoke to me again,” Martinez told police.
After the split, Martinez seethed, becoming fixated on Cano. At one point, he followed her home from her job at a Doral Outback Steakhouse.
“She was always trying to take Marian away,” Martinez later told police.
Martinez said he initially approached a former classmate, who inquired with two men from the street about a possible hit on Cano, he told detectives. Both offered to kill Cano for $12,000.
Instead, Martinez told police he decided to kill Cano himself, confiding to Gamez that he wanted to “shoot someone.” He gave Gamez $600 to buy a pistol, a 9 mm Glock. Gamez bought the weapon at a West Miami-Dade gun shop.
In early May 2008, Martinez revealed the identity of his target. Gamez agreed to help, but not without some trepidation.
Gamez told police he urged Martinez to do more “homework’’ and tried to delay the plot but on the night of May 8, the men drove to the Outback where Cano worked. Her car was in the lot.
They waited in Gamez’s car, playing cards, until they saw Cano leave. They followed her as she picked up Zorilla at her home, then drove to Doral Ale House.
To kill time, Gamez and Martinez went to a nearby Flanigan’s Seafood Bar & Grill.
“I was trying to get his mind off the whole thing,” Gamez said. “He doesn’t drink so I bought the wings, I drank the pitchers.”
Then, they went back to Martinez’s house down the street to retrieve the Glock from Gamez’s Nissan Maxima, which was parked outside. They hopped back in Martinez’s mother’s Honda Civic. The time had come, Martinez said.
“He was saying how Oneida has been screwing his life, his entire life since middle school,” Gamez recalled.
With Gamez driving, they went back to the Ale House, following the girls as they left. They caught up with them in the 10000 block of Northwest Ninth Street Circle.
Gamez sped up. Martinez told police he snapped on latex gloves and popped the hood of his black sweatshirt over his head. He fired exactly nine rounds toward the driver’s side window of Cano’s car.
“It was extremely loud,” Gamez recalled.
Cano’s car swerved briefly and slowed but did not stop. Martinez immediately thought he had missed. “Usually when you shoot a person — not that I ever shot a person before — but there’s blood or something that shows they got shot, and I didn’t see any blood on the windshield or the window and the car was still going.”
Gamez refused to turn around to finish the job. “I was like, ‘I’m not stopping this car for anything in the world,’ ’’ he told detectives.
As the young women were rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, relatives immediately told Miami-Dade detectives that they suspected Martinez because of his threats and stalking.
When police brought him in for questioning, Martinez was initially evasive but soon confessed, they said.
Detectives immediately rushed to Gamez’s home. He, too, confessed. And detectives found the Glock, casings and the latex gloves inside his car, where he had stashed the evidence, police said.