In a grainy interrogation video from 2013, Jefty Joseph almost chuckled as he explained to jurors that before he recognized his old “friend” Gustavo Falsetti Cabral in a casino, he saw Cabral watching him and thought the man wanted to rob him.
Cabral’s widow, Christiane, and other relatives seated in a Palm Beach County courtroom Thursday, shook their heads at the sound of those words. They and everyone else in the courtroom, including the jurors who could sentence Joseph to die if they convict him of first-degree murder, knew one thing about what Joseph said:
It was all a lie.
Prosecutors told jurors at the start of Joseph’s trial last week that Cabral, born and raised in Brazil, had only moved to the U.S. a short time before his body was found in an abandoned house in unincorporated Lake Worth. In the video, Joseph called Cabral “Chico” and claimed Cabral had been a friend of his older brother who’d interacted with him in South Florida ever since Joseph was a child.
Koral Ben Shimon, arrested two weeks after authorities apprehended Joseph and best friend Ilmart Christophe almost immediately after the shooting, told jurors earlier Thursday how they all really met. Cabral, she said, was one of several people who responded to an escort ad she’d placed on Backpage.com.
And though Joseph told investigators in his fake story that he initially thought Cabral was contemplating whether to rob him, Ben Shimon told jurors it was Joseph and Christophe, her boyfriend and pimp at the time, who had designs on robbing a john and chose Cabral as their prey.
Both stories aside, the one thing that Joseph was adamant about in the two-hour interview played for jurors, however, was that he had nothing to do with Cabral’s death.
“You have a way you can test? You have that gunshot residue thing? Come through with it, man. I did not shoot that man,” Joseph said.
Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts, who is leading the case against Joseph along with fellow prosecutor Terri Skiles, told jurors that they didn’t have to prove whether it was Joseph or Christophe who actually shot Cabral. Both, they say, are guilty under the law of his murder, robbery and kidnapping from the Super 8 Motel in Pompano Beach, where he met Ben Shimon in the early hours of Dec. 1, 2013, just hours before his death.
Ben Shimon, arrested two weeks after Joseph and Christophe, had also faced a murder charge until she accepted a plea deal in exchange for her testimony against Joseph and Christophe, who also faces a potential death sentence but is still awaiting trial. Under the terms of the agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop the murder charge against Ben Shimon and allow her to serve a 10-year prison sentence on the other charges.
Defense attorney Scott Skier, who, along with Robert Gershman and Shaun Rosenberg, is representing Joseph, estimated on Thursday that with the time Ben Shimon has spent behind bars since her 2013 arrest, the deal means she could be out in as few as four additional years.
“That’s much better than life in prison, isn’t it?” Skier asked Ben Shimon on cross-examination.
Ben Shimon agreed.
“But without you, there is no robbery, and there is no murder, right?” Skier asked, prompting an objection from prosecutors that Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes sustained.
Skier since the start of the trial had said that there is no evidence to support claims that Cabral was robbed or kidnapped. Surely Cabral, who had moved to Florida in hopes of opening a mixed martial arts studio, would have put up a fight if two men tried to take him by force from the hotel room, Skier said.
But the hotel room showed no signs of a struggle, Skier said. And the hotel security worker who later saw Cabral leaving the hotel with Ben Shimon and the two men thought the group was an odd pairing but said Cabral didn’t appear to be in distress or leaving by force.
Ben Shimon said the men robbed Cabral at gunpoint, then forced him into his car, told her to follow them and then went to a bank to try to withdraw some of his money. The caravan wound up back in Palm Beach County in the Indian Pines neighborhood, where Ben Shimon said Christophe told her to go to his mother’s house. She said she didn’t find out Cabral was dead until Christophe and Joseph were arrested.
In the interrogation video, Joseph said he wasn’t in the abandoned house when Cabral was killed and didn’t know anything happened to him until police stopped him and Christophe a short time later as they were walking on Eddy Court.
While Joseph sat on the ground immediately, Christophe ran. Joseph pointed that out to investigators in the video as proof he didn’t know Cabral had been killed, a sentiment Skier echoed to jurors.
Aside from the video and testimony from Ben Shimon, jurors on Tuesday also heard from Christiane Cabral, who told them she and her husband, who have two children, had moved to the United States looking to get away from poverty-motivated violence in their native country.
Christiane Cabral last spoke to her husband less than a day before he was killed. She had been back home in Brazil and expected to return Dec. 4, 2013. After she heard of his murder, she said, she never returned.
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case against Joseph early Friday.