The defense attorney for Andres Campo tried to suggest that another bad guy in his client’s ring of gun runners murdered a government witness who planned to rat them all out three years ago.
“There was a lot of evidence that [Campo] was smuggling these guns — but murder?” attorney Allen Kaufman told jurors during his client’s federal trial in Miami. “I’m not convinced.”
The 12 jurors were.
After deliberating for five hours Friday, they unanimously agreed that Campo shot and killed Erik Comesana in a Southwest Miami-Dade warehouse and burned his body in the Redland area in May 2011 — just three days before the victim planned to plead guilty to gun-trafficking charges. He had cut a cooperation deal to testify against Campo and his illegal Miami-Dade weapons business.
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The jury found the 26-year-old Campo guilty of conspiracy, first-degree murder, obstruction of justice, firearms trafficking and unlawful possession of a weapon as a fugitive. The murder-related charges carry life imprisonment. The weapons offenses have five- to 10-year maximum sentences.
Campo’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 13 before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga.
Campo showed no emotion as the judge read all 12 guilty verdicts. As he was escorted out of the courtroom, he turned to say good-bye to his crying mother and sister.
Comesana’s family members and friends quietly rejoiced on the other side of the courtroom. The victim’s mother hugged the lead prosecutor, Anthony Lacosta. The mother later declined to comment about the outcome, saying her son’s murder was “still too painful” for her family.
During closing arguments, Lacosta and prosecutor Seth Schlessinger repeatedly said that Campo was responsible for Comesana’s death.
“This isn’t a crime that this defendant shied away from,” Lacosta told jurors. “This is a crime that this defendant bragged about. ... He was laughing about [Erik] when he was burning in a field.”
In the middle of the night three years ago, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue found Comesana’s body burned beyond recognition after putting out a brush fire in the rural Redland area.
Police soon discovered that the body, tied up with an extension cord and wrapped in plastic, had two bullet wounds and had been butchered with a machete. What they didn't immediately know was that the murder victim was a cooperating witness in a federal probe of a gun-distribution ring stretching from South Florida to Colombia’s left-wing paramilitary group, known as the FARC.
The 25-year-old Comesana, whose charred body was found at Southwest 196th Avenue and 176th Street, had been set to plead guilty in a federal firearms case three days after his death.
The probe unfolded in October 2009, when a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent was at the Florida Gun Exchange in Port Orange on an “unrelated matter.” He noticed a man, later identified as co-defendant Michael Romero, buying seven receivers for AR-15 rifles.
The agent eventually confronted Romero, who confessed that Comesana paid him to buy weapons for a third person named “Campos,” records show. Comesana, waiting outside in a car, also confessed.
After a 1½-year investigation, agents arrested Comesana and Romero on gun charges. When Campo learned that Comesana was cooperating with investigators and planned to plead guilty, he hatched his murder plot, prosecutors said.
On May 27, 2011, Campo made arrangements to have Comesana stop by a Southwest Miami-Dade warehouse, where he was suspected of keeping his firearm shipments, so that the associate could pick up money for his legal fees.
It was a ruse, the prosecutor said. Campo and another associate, Carlos Rios, waited that day for Comesana so they could kill him.
After the two men carried out the grisly killing, investigators found two pairs of bloodied orange gloves in the warehouse that contained the DNA of Campo and Rios and that of the victim, Comesana. Rios has pleaded guilty to the murder and is serving a life sentence.