Did Janepsy Carballo strike up a relationship with the man she suspected of gunning down her husband and wounding her young son to help police — or to exact her own justice?
At the opening of her murder trial Wednesday, attorneys painted divergent pictures of the young widow, who sat quietly, dressed in a gray pantsuit and stilettos, as attorneys argued over what motivated her to shoot Ilan Nissim six times in the back and arm when he showed up at her house in May 2008.
Two years after the shooting, police charged Carballo with murder after an informant, working on a separate investigation into alleged drug activity, recorded her describing the shooting as “an eye for an eye.”
Two black-clad men killed Carballo’s husband, Orlando Mesa, 37, in April 2008 as he played in front of the couple’s North Miami home with their 20-month-old son. Bullets also grazed the toddler. A home surveillance video showed the men with dreadlocks pull up in a white Toyota, fire, flee, then circle back to finish him off.
Three days later, Carballo made a tearful plea in a televised news conference for help finding the killers.
But she told police she suspected Nissim, 27, because of a failed business deal: she said her husband had given Nissim $180,000 for a real estate transaction, but the money was later stolen.
Police urged Carballo to get close to Nissim to hunt for clues.
On Wednesday, Assistant State Attorney Abbe Rifkin said Carballo did better than get close. She fostered a relationship, making repeated calls, sending texts and visiting his family’s home. The day she shot him, phone records show Carballo called Nissim three times, Rifkin said.
Carballo had also bought a gun from a Bass Pro Shop. When the clerk asked what kind she wanted, Rifkin said Carballo responded, “one that won’t miss.”
And the day she called him to her house, Rifkin said, Carballo’s alarm was off, her door was open and her two dogs, one a pit bull, were locked up — suggesting she was anything but fearful.
Reading from a transcript, Rifkin said Carballo told the informant she asked Nissim to come to her house, which she was selling, to remove expensive stereo equipment.
As she waited for him to dismantle speakers in her bedroom, Carballo told the informant, “I knew what was gonna happen … I was shaking inside but outside I was calm.”
When Nissim emerged, according to the transcript, Carballo said, “I was ready. … He said, ‘Oh s--t.’ ”
Rifkin told jurors that Carballo “thought no one but [the informant] was listening. What she didn’t know was justice was listening.”
But defense attorney Nathan Diamond argued that Carballo didn’t entice Nissim to her house. In fact, she feared him, he said. She willingly aided police by keeping tabs on Nissim but also heeded their warning that Nissim was dangerous.
Diamond said the family was told to “be careful, these are dangerous people.”
Police repeatedly warned Carballo, Diamond said, including during her husband’s funeral and later when they drove her around looking for Nissim. Diamond argued that Nissim showed up at Carballo’s house uninvited and demanded to know the location of her dead husband’s warehouse, where “he keeps his stuff.”
“You’ll hear about the police work. You’ll hear about the forensics. You’ll hear about that … and I suggest to you that at the end of this case, you’ll be of the same mind, that Janepsy Carballo is not guilty.”
The day Carballo shot Nissim, she first called 911 to report a battery, according to police. Moments later, she called to say she had shot an intruder. When police arrived, they found Nissim bloodied and face down in a hallway. His blue Dodge Caravan was parked in the driveway. Carballo’s 38-caliber revolver was nearby. An autopsy found Nissim was either laying down when he was shot or bending over.
In November 2012, Carballo asked to be granted immunity for the shooting under the state’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law. The controversial law triggered nationwide outrage after George Zimmerman, a neighborhood crime watchman, pleaded self-defense under the law in the slaying of Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed. Zimmerman was acquitted.
Carballo’s bid for immunity under the law was rejected by a judge after prosecutors played the informant’s tape, in which Carballo also said she shot Nissim because she feared police weren’t going to catch him and she wanted his daughter to grow up without a father, “just like my son.”
Carballo and Mesa were on the police’s radar before the shootings. Police arrested Mesa a month before his death after they spotted him moving two large bags of marijuana from a rented Bentley. He served two days in jail. About the same time, police stopped Carballo and found $16,000 in a shoebox in her car. The money was later returned to Carballo after she proved she won it in the lottery.
As for her husband’s murder, a car matching the suspects’ getaway car was later found abandoned and torched. No one has ever been charged and the case remains open.