MMA fighter turns witness in sordid kidnap and murder tied to ex-Presidente supermarket exec

For aspiring mixed martial arts fighter Ariel “The Panther” Gandulla, his involvement in a sensational murder case started at a Kendall gym in the spring of 2011.

While training, he heard some gym associates talking about a “job” offered by Manuel Marin, a wealthy fight fan who owned South Florida Presidente supermarkets. Within days, Gandulla said, he’d been unwittingly roped into helping kidnap Marin’s romantic rival — who wound up murdered in an isolated West Miami-Dade field, his genitals lit ablaze, his throat slit.

Gandulla’s firsthand account of the kidnapping, revealed publicly for the first time in a sworn statement released on Tuesday, has now become key evidence against the others charged in the gruesome death of Camilo Salazar in June 2011. Two of the men, Roberto Isaac and Alexis Vila Perdomo, start trial on Oct. 15 in a murder case with a distinct Miami flavor.

The star witness insists he never witnessed the actual murder and only participated in the kidnapping, a claim prosecutors believe is corroborated by cellphone records that show he was not on the scene where Salazar was tortured and killed.

Still, Gandulla’s testimony significantly strengthens what had been a largely circumstantial case — built on exhaustive cellphone records — against Marin, Isaac and Vila Perdomo, a former Cuban Olympic bronze medalist boxer.

The State Attorney’s Office released the sworn statement of Gandulla less than a week after he voluntarily returned to Miami from years on the run in Vancouver, Canada, pleaded guilty and agreed to spend 36 months in prison in exchange for his testimony. Gandulla is a former professional MMA fighter who wound up with an 8-9 record.

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October 3, 2019 at 02:14AM