Six years after unleashing a hail of bullets into the back of her husband’s ex-business partner, North Miami widow Janepsy Carballo squeezed her eyes shut and stood before the jury all but knowing the outcome.
Guilty. First-degree murder.
The death of Ilan Nissim – lured to Carballo’s house, then shot as he ran away – was indeed a calculated act of revenge, jurors decided Wednesday afternoon after a grueling 16 hours of deliberations stretched over three days.
Carballo, 37, who claimed self defense against a man she insisted was behind her husband’s violent demise, seemed confident throughout her three-week trial.
But earlier in the afternoon, deadlocked jurors crushed any hopes of an acquittal by sending out a note: Eleven votes for first-degree murder, one for second-degree murder. Keep deliberating, the judge implored.
Two hours later, the guilty verdict entered into the record, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler swiftly meted out Carballo’s mandatory sentence – life in prison.
“It was somber,” defense attorney Bruce Fleisher said of her mood after the jury’s note. “I think we were hoping whoever the juror was who was holding out was going to stand strong.”
After the verdict, Nissim’s sisters smiled and held each other as they filed out of Miami’s criminal courthouse. “We’re happy. Justice is served,” the family said repeatedly.
In tow: Ilan’s 8-year-old daughter, who had just finished a Strawberry Shortcake puzzle on the courtroom floor.
“There is no joy in this verdict,” prosecutor Abbe Rifkin said. “A man has lost his life. A woman’s life is essentially over. And two children – the victim’s child and the defendant’s child – have lost parents.”
The verdict capped a made-for-TV saga that began in April 2008. Carballo’s husband, Orlando Mesa, a suspected drug dealer, was shot to death outside their North Miami home as he played with their 20-month-old son. Bullets grazed the toddler.
A home surveillance video showed the killers were two men, dressed in black, sporting dreadlocks, inside a white Toyota. The case remains unsolved.
During this month’s trial, jurors heard that Carballo immediately told detectives that she suspected Nissim, her husband’s business partner, because who had been in a dispute with Mesa over a real-estate deal.
Fast forward one month later. Carballo claimed Nissim had shown up to the home. While inside a hallway, Nissim tore her shirt and reached for what she thought was a gun, her defense attorney said.
“In her own home,” lawyer Nathan Diamond told jurors during closing arguments. “That’s where she had the right to defend herself.”
Miami-Dade prosecutors countered: Carballo lured him over to help her remove stereo equipment from the home she was selling. They relied on what they called “overwhelming evidence” to show Carballo planned the murder:
▪ Even before her husband’s murder, Carballo had forged a relationship with Nissim, possibly an intimate one. They exchanged 50 phone calls before Nissim’s slaying, with Carballo urging him to come over the day of the shooting, even telling him about her visit to the hospital because of complications with a pregnancy.
▪ An autopsy showed Nissim was shot at least five times in the back. Prosecutors say he was running to get away from Carballo, with the final shots coming as he lay on the ground mortally wounded. The defense insisted he turned away, but only after lunging at Carballo.
▪ Perhaps the most devastating evidence was Carballo’s own words to a confidential informant, who was dispatched in 2010 as part of an unrelated federal narcotics investigation into the woman’s business dealings. In a secretly recorded conversation, Carballo brashly boasted in detail about taking the law into her own hands.
“When I knew it was going to be hard to catch him, I was like, I have to do something,” she said on the recording. “An eye for eye. I wanted his daughter to grow up without a father, just like my son.”
Said prosecutor Rifkin: “Revenge is first-degree murder, no matter what way you slice it.”
To counter the recording, the defense suggested that at the time, Carballo was still suffering from “post traumatic stress.”
Jurors never heard from Carballo directly. She chose not to testify.
Carballo did take the stand two years ago when she asked a judge to grant her immunity under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law. The bid failed.
Carballo’s secretly recorded conversation, the judge wrote at the time, is “compelling, incapable of being ignored, downplayed or interpreted in any other manner but one of revenge.”
On Wednesday, jurors agreed.