Witness places former Presidente Supermarket exec with ex-wife's lover just before murder
Published in News & Features
As the murder trial of a former Presidente Supermarket executive continued this week, prosecutors turned to a colorful star witness and cell phone data to link Manuel Marin to the brutal slaying of his wife’s lover.
The state’s case leans heavily on one eyewitness — Ariel “The Panther” Gandulla, a former Mixed Martial Arts fighter — who told jurors on Monday that he was in a truck when Marin and another man lifted Salazar out of its backseat, his hands bound by plastic handcuffs, and put him inside the hatchback of Marin’s blue Mercedes at an office park close to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“The seats were down and there was plastic on top of them,” Gandulla told jurors on Monday.
“The person in the blue Mercedes, you see him here today?” Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Justin Funck asked Gandulla.
“Yes” Gandulla replied, pointing directly at Marin.
Though Gandulla’s testimony tied Marin directly to the plot, he didn’t place him at the isolated West Miami-Dade field where Salazar’s body was found charred, his jaw broken and throat slit more than a decade ago. Prosecutors relied on technology to do that, saying Marin’s phone “pinged” at the closest cellphone tower to the final crime scene at the edge of the Everglades.
Marin, who owned several Presidente Supermarkets in South Florida and New Jersey before Salazar was killed, is the accused jealous mastermind of a plot to kill his wife’s former lover. Prosecutors say the former corporate executive recruited another MMA fighter named Alexis Vila Perdomo, Latin Kings gang member Roberto Isaac and Gandulla, to abduct Salazar and eventually kill him. Marin has been charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping, which could land him in prison for the rest of his life.
They believe Perdomo helped orchestrate the killing from Las Vegas, by convincing Issac to abduct Salazar and murder him. On the June 1, 2011, morning that Salazar was killed, Gandulla testified that Isaac showed up at his Kendall home and asked him to help cash a check he had to get from another man.
From there, he said, the day’s events quickly escalated into a macabre scene he said he wanted no part of. Gandulla claimed in court Monday that when they found Salazar outside his wife’s Coconut Grove office, Isaac pretended to be a cop, blocked Salazar’s car, subdued him with plastic handcuffs and drove him to Isaac’s Wynwood home.
That’s where, Gandulla said, he sat in the vehicle with the engine off, window down and Salazar in the backseat, for three hours. Marin defense attorney Jose Quniones asked the bigger and stronger Gandualla why he didn’t just leave. Gandulla said he was unsure if the gate behind him was locked.
“It’s easy for you to get the hell out of there?” Quniones asked, incredulously.
“I told you 100 times, I was stuck. I didn’t know what actions to take,” Gundalla shot back. He said Isaac finally appeared and they drove to an office park where the transfer took place.
Then, Gandulla said, he was finally able to escape. As Isaac closed the hatch on Marin’s Mercedes with Salazar inside, his hands and feet now bound, he said he noticed the keys in the pickup truck, jumped into the driver’s seat and drove back to his Kendall apartment. He said he called Isaac and told him he left the truck and the keys in the parking lot and met him downstairs when Isaac arrived later that night. He said Isaac told him they gave Salazar “a beating” and that Isaac smelled like gasoline.
Gandulla was busted a week later with a friend in Tampa, charged with distributing marijuana. He said he lost his home and moved in with his sister in Orlando. He claimed to only have learned about Salazar’s death when Miami-Dade police detectives showed up the next year at his sister’s home. After that, he moved to Vancouver with his new wife, where they spent the next seven years with their two children.
In 2019 police caught up with him, flying to Vancouver along with Miami-Dade state prosecutors. Gandulla told prosecutors he was so crushed by the string of events that he contemplated suicide. The state eventually offered Gandulla a three-year sentence for kidnapping in exchange for his testimony.
Marin also fled within a week of Salazar’s death. It appears he didn’t correspond much over the years and resurfaced at the U.S. Embassy in Spain in 2018, where he was taken into custody by the FBI. He had been considered a fugitive for four years. Perdomo and Isaac were found guilty during a 2019 trial, with Perdomo getting a 15-year sentence and Isaac life for Salazar’s murder.
Closing arguments for the trial, now in its second week, are expected Thursday or Friday.
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