With every guilty verdict Jefty Joseph heard in a Palm Beach County courtroom Monday, the words he had held inside for weeks came closer to the surface.
It started the moment Joseph heard the jury found him guilty of murder in the 2013 murder of Gustavo Falsetti Cabral, a crime for which prosecutors next month will seek to put the 24-year-old to death.
Then, they found him guilty of robbery but concluded he didn’t carry or discharge a fiearm during the offense, pointing possibly by inference to his co-defendant, Ilmart Christophe, as Cabral’s actual shooter.
Finally, as he heard that the jury also convicted him of the related kidnapping charge and determined he had in fact held a gun during that crime, Joseph broke his silence and spoke loud enough for the entire courtroom to hear.
“No, I didn’t,” Joseph said. “I didn’t do [expletive]. I didn’t do [expletive].”
That marked just the beginning of an outburst that rocked the verdict announcement in the emotional case surrounding the death of Cabral, a 31-year-old father of two who answered an ad on Backpage.com hoping to meet an escort for sex only to be set up for a robbery that eventually cost him his life.
Cabral’s widow, Christiane Rezende, sat with other relatives through the trial and was in court for Monday’s verdict. She cried quietly at her seat and later sobbed as she hugged Assistant State Attoneys Terri Skiles and Aleathea McRoberts, thanking them for their efforts in the case.
Rezende’s tears, however, faded against the backdrop of Joseph’s anger over the verdict — an emotion he centered directly on Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes.
“I didn’t get a fair trial anyway,” Joseph continued after proclaiming his innocence.
He then called Kastrenakes a derogatory term, prompting the judge to ask deputies to escort him from the courtroom and instructing jurors to return to the same room where they deliberated the case for nearly six hours Monday before returning the verdicts.
Joseph’s angry tirade continued after jurors left. He called Kastrenakes a racist and accused him of siding with prosecutors, telling the judge at one point that he knew the judge “wanted to sit over there with them the whole time.”
“I know you don’t like me. I don’t like you, either. I’m [unintelligible] appeal. I’m coming back, and I’m going home, I’m going home,” Joseph told Kastrenakes on his way out of the courtroom.
Kastrenakes then suggested finishing the court’s business without Joseph present, but defense attorney Robert Gershman asked for a chance to speak to Joseph in a holding cell. After a brief break, Gershman reemerged from the holding cell with a much calmer Joseph in tow.
Cabral, a native of Brazil who had come to Florida the previous year and worked as a Pilates instructor while hoping to open a mixed-martial arts gym, answered the online escort ad in the hours before his death on Dec. 1,2013 and made arrangements to meet Koral Ben Shimon, whose pimp and boyfriend was Christophe.
Ben Shimon was the state’s star witness during Joseph’s trial, testifying to jurors that her meeting with Cabral at a Super 8 Motel in Pompano Beach was just a set up for the two men to rob him.
But defense attorney Scott Skier, representing Joseph with Shaun Rosenberg and Gershman, told jurors in closing arguments that there was no evidence of a robbery or kidnapping outside of her testimony and reminded them that she testified in exchange for a 10-year plea deal.
Ben Shimon said that the men robbed Cabral at gunpoint before the forcing him into his own car, where they drove him to several ATM machines, where they attempted to drain his bank accounts. She said Christophe told her to go to his mother’s house after that, and it was only after Christophe and Joseph were arrested that she found out that Cabral was later found fatally wounded in an abandoned house in the Indian Pines neighborhood of unincorporated Lake Worth.
McRoberts and Skiles said Cabral tried to comply with the robbers in hopes of surviving the ordeal, telling them he had a wife and children back in his native Brazil and that he would do whatever they asked.
But by the time he was forced into the abandoned house and climbed up into an attic, where investigators say he was shot in the head, prosecutors said Cabral likely knew he was going to die.
“He came to meet a woman. It was a horrible decision, he was lonely or whatever,” McRoberts said. “There was no reason to kill him.”
A neighbor called 911 after hearing a gunshot, and police stopped Joseph and Christophe a short time later as they walked along Eddy Court. While Joseph immediately stopped, Christophe ran from deputies, and Ben Shimon later told authorities she saw what appeared to be a gun in his hand when he arrived at his mother’s house a short time later.
Christophe was later captured at another house in the area. He is still awaiting trial, and prosecutors are also seeking a death sentence against him.
A big part of prosecutors’ case against Joseph was Joseph’s own words in an interrogation video, where he spun for detectives a false story of Cabral being a family friend who watched him grow up and said they reconnected by happenstance at a casino and partied together before he lost track of him.
Monday’s verdict means that the same jury that rejected that story will now decide whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or die by lethal injection. Kastrenakes on Monday scheduled the penalty case of the trial to begin Feb. 13.
In order for Kastrenakes to give Joseph a death sentence, all 12 jurors will have to unanimously choose that punishment over a life sentence.
Before Kastrenakes adjourned court for the day, he suspended Joseph’s phone and mail privileges and ordered him held in isolation inside the Palm Beach County jail, where he has already been in solitary confinement after another unrelated incident at the jail. Kastrenakes perceived a statement Joseph made during his outburst as a threat to “come back and get” him.
Skier told Kastrenakes that Joseph’s statement about coming back were references to him wanting his case to come back on appeal. Afterwards, Gershman explained that Joseph’s response was a direct reaction to the implications of the verdict against him.
“I think in every case it’s hard for a young person to hear a verdict like that, especially when it goes against you,’ Gershman said, saying he will ask jurors next month to spare Joseph’s life.
Outside the courtroom, Joseph’s family grieved the verdict. His grandmother cried and prayed in the bathroom, later describing Joseph as a promising child who graduated high school at 17 and had plans to finish college. His mother, siblings and other relatives also attended each day of the trial.
For Rezende, attending the trial was about pursuing justice, both for herself and for the two children she and Cabral shared, now 7 and 10. Both look just like their father, she said, and every day she sees traces of him in their smile, their gestures and even in her son’s hands and feet.
“This is hard for them, for all of us,” she said before the verdict.