An Argentine who spent more than a decade on the lam in South America has finally met justice for the crowbar beating death of a Hialeah jeweler.
Jurors late Thursday convicted Roque Calafell for the December 2001 murder of 61-year-old Agustin Morales, whose body was discovered decomposing inside the trunk of a car at a Hialeah tow yard.
The verdict capped a two-week trial in a case that has drawn little attention in the United States but was covered prominently in Argentina, where the country’s Supreme Court refused to halt Calafell’s extradition.
Calafell, 46, faces life in prison when he is sentenced next month.
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At trial, jurors heard that Calafell and his younger girlfriend, Maria Marchan, came to Miami in December 2001 as Argentina’s economy went into a deep spiral. They hoped to get bogus social security cards that would allow them to work if they overstayed their tourist visas.
Enter Morales, a jeweler who offered them the documents. But when he failed to deliver, the two lovers — broke and unable to pay for plane tickets home — lured him to their apartment.
Authorities said Calafell beat Morales to death with a crowbar, then hogtied his body and threw it in the jeweler’s trunk before ditching the vehicle. They sold some of his jewels, but only had enough money to buy a plane ticket for Calafell, jurors heard.
The body was not found for several weeks.
Marchen, then 23, remained in South Florida, where she worked at the El Rinconcito de Olga Restaurant in Hialeah. The city’s homicide detectives zeroed in on her and she confessed. Charged with murder, Marchan later agreed to a 15-year prison sentence in exchange for her cooperation against Calafell.
Prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Calafell in 2006. Two years later, Argentine authorities cuffed him but he fought his extradition for years. Argentina agreed to return him to the United States if prosecutors waived the death penalty.
In 2012, he finally arrived to a Miami-Dade jail, where he later granted jailhouse interviews to Argentine news outlets.
At this month’s trial, prosecutors Gail Levine and Lara Penn showed jurors letters that Calafell had penned to his ex-girlfriend suggesting she tell stories that might exonerate him. A jailhouse informant also furnished similar letters Calafell had written detailing a plan to get Marchan to change her story.
“They were very damning, to say the least,” said Calafell’s defense attorney, Jack Blumenfeld. “I think that tipped the scales.”
Marchan also testified via a video recorded three months ago. The reason: she had finished her prison sentence and been deported to Argentina.
“We thought she was lying, and there could have been other people involved,” said Blumenfeld, who tried the case with Milena Abreu.
But jurors deliberated just a little over three hours before finding Calafell guilty.
“We are very pleased to have finally concluded this case and brought justice for the victim,” said Hialeah police spokesman Carl Zogby. “Mr Calafell eluded arrest and fled to Argentina, mocking our justice system and thinking he got away with murder, but he underestimated the persistence and tenacity of Hialeah’s homicide team.”