Crime

Medical examiner testifies on the brutal last moments of Everglades kidnapping murder

The flies found Camilo Salazar first.

The victim of a sensational kidnapping and murder allegedly carried out by a wealthy businessman and hired MMA fighters, Salazar turned up dead in the Everglades eight years ago with his genitals burned and his throat sliced open.

Telltale white eggs clustered in that wound, Miami-Dade’s Chief Medical Examiner Emma Lew testified Wednesday.

“Flies are very sensitive to the smell of death,” Lew told the jury. “They’ll fly in the body fairly quickly to find a nice place to lay their eggs.”

She walked jurors through Salazar’s last moments in the brutal killing prosecutors say was orchestrated by Presidente Supermarket owner Manuel Marin after he learned his wife was having an affair with Salazar. Two of the men hired by Marin to bring Salazar to his death, former Cuban wrestling champ Alexis Vila Perdomo and his gym pal Roberto Isaac, are on trial in the murder. Marin will go to trial next year.

Salazar had just finished dropping off his infant daughter to his wife when he was abducted in the street and brought to a desolate stretch of the Everglades, prosecutors say. His hands bound with a belt, he walked out of the car, knelt down, and suffered repeated blows to the face and head that fractured his skull and jaw, the medical examiner testified. A heavy, hard object like a golf club was used, she said.

Then, a knife or boxcutter slit Salazar’s throat from left to right and he keeled over, still alive.

“After Mr. Salazar sustained these wounds, blood drained down the windpipe into the lungs,” the medical examiner said. “He could breathe into the lungs, but he wouldn’t be able to talk.”

Rolled onto his back, the naked Salazar had gasoline sprinkled onto his genitals, his penis the kindling for the blaze. He may or may not have been alive at that point, Lew said.

Investigators tracked the communication and location of the alleged killers using their cellphone records, and found that the devices ended up in the same area as Salazar’s body. Not only that, but they had all been calling each other dozens of times on June 1, 2011, the day of the murder.

“There could be many reasons why my client could call Mr. Marin based on the history of their relationships,” Vila’s defense lawyer, Ted Mastos, said. “The raw data does not explain the sort of relationship that might have existed between these folks.”

The prosecution’s star witness, ex-MMA fighter Ariel “The Panther” Gandulla, says otherwise. Phone records show Gandulla had been in constant phone contact with the other men involved on the day of Salazar’s death. Gandulla testified against his former gym pals Vila and Isaac, whom he said convinced him to participate in the “job” without understanding its consequences. He received a 36-month sentence in return for cooperating.

Meta-data gathered from phone records and analyzed by ZetX, a firm specializing in cellular investigations, determined the location of the phones for everyone involved through the day of the murder — tracking Gandulla, Marin and Isaac to and from the scene of the crime.

The phone records also revealed unusual call patterns between the suspects on the day of the murder, while establishing relationships among them.

“There’s clearly a hierarchy,” said Sy Ray, the owner of ZetX. “There is a pecking order of who gets called first, second, third.”

He pointed to the first time Marin made contact with the men he allegedly hired to kill Salazar. On May 15, Vila called Marin, which started a chain reaction of calls to Isaac and Gandulla.

Vila had been in Las Vegas training for a fight that day, but phone records show he still participated in a flurry of calls with Isaac, Marin and Gandulla.

And while Isaac called Marin 51 times on the day of the murder, the two never spoke again on the phone.

“Clearly they are known to each other and were communicating throughout the day,” Ray said.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.
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