Jury to decide if Miami businessman arranged scheme to kill witness, his own lawyer

Miami businessman Adam Barnett, testifying last week, is on trial for conspiracy to murder a witness and his own defense lawyer.
Miami businessman Adam Barnett, testifying last week, is on trial for conspiracy to murder a witness and his own defense lawyer. Miami Herald

It’s clear that Miami businessman Adam Barnett had a twisted relationship with fellow inmate Roman Thomas over the course of their months in jail together.

Now, jurors must decide whether their relationship was forged through a plot to murder Barnett’s teenage sex victim and his former defense lawyer – or if Thomas framed him in a convoluted plot to pocket thousands in “protection money.”

The jury deliberated briefly on Tuesday in the case of Barnett, who is accused of paying Thomas over $40,000 cash in an outlandish scheme detailed by prosecutors over three weeks of testimony. Jurors will return Wednesday to resume.

Barnett faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Thomas was the star witness. Over days of testimony, Thomas admitted he milked Barnett, never intending to have his associates murder anybody out on the streets of Miami.

“That was his goal all along,” Assistant State Attorney Derek Ko told jurors during closing arguments.“To take the money and run.”

Barnett, 43, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors say that Barnett, in 2012, conned a 17-year-old girl into sleeping with him, falsely promising her $20,000 and a Rolex watch. After he was arrested for the illicit rendezvous, Barnett remained in jail, where he met Thomas – himself facing charges of trafficking an underage girl.

Thomas told jurors that Barnett, itching to beat the case, hired him to murder the girl known as J.E., as well as his former defense lawyer, David Seltzer.

The plan? To have one of Thomas’ associates on the outside kill the two.

Barnett’s personal assistant, Maggy Caceres, told jurors that she delivered thousands of dollars to Thomas’ family, ultimately paying him around $40,000. Thomas even told Barnett that J.E. was killed, even presenting him with sham photos of her tombstone.

In his defense, Barnett took the stand to say there was no murder plot and that Thomas extorted him for the money using physical violence – knocking out his teeth, injured his left shoulder, and smacking his private parts. “He owned me,” Barnett said of Thomas.

Defense lawyer Elio Vazquez told jurors that Thomas was nothing more than a conman and extortionist.

“This man here is the victim of atrocious violence put on him by Roman Thomas,” Vazquez said of his client.

But prosecutor Michael Von Zamft said Barnett provided no evidence that he was beaten up.

“No doctor, no medical records, no nothing,” Von Zamft told jurors, adding: “It is overwhelming clear that he is guilty of the crimes.”

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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