Former MTV reality-show star on trial for murder in Miami

Baron Colon, a former reality show contestant on MTV, and his lawyer, Alex Michaels, on Tuesday in court for trial. Colon is accused of murdering Kendall artist Marcelo Vera.
Baron Colon, a former reality show contestant on MTV, and his lawyer, Alex Michaels, on Tuesday in court for trial. Colon is accused of murdering Kendall artist Marcelo Vera. David Ovalle

Baron Colon, the Miami Gardens man once cast on a MTV reality show featuring street thugs, is now a contestant on a stage with much higher stakes.

A jury was sworn in Tuesday to decide whether Colon is guilty of murdering a West Kendall art dealer who was shot to death during a raid to steal cash from the man’s home in January 2006.

Colon was doomed by his own confession — recorded secretly by an informant — and the testimony of a Hialeah woman who helped set up the burglary, prosecutor Mary Ernst told jurors during opening statements.

“Today is Mr. Colon’s day,” Ernst said. “Today finally begins his reckoning.”

Colon, 28, is facing life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and armed burglary.

His defense attorney pointed to the lack of DNA and fingerprint evidence, ripped the two key witnesses as “snitches who sell their own mothers” and dismissed the taped confession as nothing more than bragging by a wannabe rapper.

“It’s very common in this industry to take credit for things they didn’t do, murders they didn’t do,” lawyer Alex Michaels said. “Street cred is vital. It’s important.”

The victim was Marcelo Vera, 44, a Cuban exile art dealer and the son of a former high-ranking government official on the island. Vera, profiled in a 1988 front page Herald article, served in Angola’s civil war for the Cuban army and split with the government after protesting executions there.

The 12-person jury will not hear about Colon’s reality-show participation.

Nicknamed “Dirty,” Colon was a finalist in 2009 on the second season of From G’s to Gents, which offered $100,000 to the “real” gangster who most turned his life around.

The show, executive produced by actor Jamie Foxx, lasted only two seasons on MTV. The first season’s winner, Thaddeus “Creepa” Martin, was later jailed in Miami-Dade for aggravated battery — he did one year in prison and is now on probation until 2016.

As for Colon, he sported a wild jester-hat style hairdo and claimed on the show that his drug-addled mother threw him in the trash as a baby.

He and 15 other contestants from across the country were plunged into the posh world of a Los Angeles “gentleman's club,” attending a wine-tasting, producing a public service skit for school children and even competing in a fashion contest.

“I got two kids. I want to be in the gentleman's club because I want to change, for them,” Colon said in the opening episode. ``If I don't change, there's only going to be two things: prison, or death.''

MTV producers did not know that at the time of the show’s filming, Miami-Dade police homicide detectives had identified Colon as a suspect in Vera’s murder.

Vera had employed one of Colon’s associates, Stephany Concepcion, 30. She became upset with her employer after he groped her.

So she and Colon planned to rob Vera, who was known to keep large amounts of cash around his home. Concepcion went to Vera’s house just past 11:30 p.m. and he invited her inside. Outside, Colon and two other men known as “Dread” and “Big Killa” waited.

From the bathroom, she used Colon’s cell phone to call one of the cohorts to let him know the time was right for the robbery, Ernst said. Locked in the bathroom, Concepcion heard the men storm the home.

“She heard men fighting. She heard Marcelo shrieking, screaming, begging for his life,” Ernst said. “Then she heard gunshots, multiple gunshots.”

Concepcion ultimately ran outside, but the men drove off, leaving her standing in the front yard as police officers rushed to the scene.

Detectives arrested Concepcion, 30, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify in exchange for 15 years in prison.

But investigators could not arrest Colon simply on Concepcion's word. Detectives cracked the case when Colon was ensnared in an undercover cocaine investigation after returning from the show.

The key witnesses: Jerry Rios, a childhood friend of Colon, who agreed to wear a wire to get his old buddy to talk about the murder.

Prosecutors said that Colon, on the recording, talked of the Mac pistol he used and the vicious struggle inside the home.

“You will hear details that only the killer could know,” Ernst said.

On the tape, he even admitted the reason he sought the $100,000 prize from MTV.

“To get a lawyer. I went on the show to win to get a lawyer,” Colon said on the tape. “Just in case.”

Michaels, the defense lawyer, insisted that Colon was wrongly implicated only because he had let Concepcion borrow his phone, which detectives found on her after the murder, and his boasting to Rios.

“Evidence will show my client is stupid,” Michaels said. “ I told him that. A phone and bragging.”

The trial continues Wednesday before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez.