VERO BEACH — An Indian River County jury was riveted Monday by testimony about illegal drugs, illicit sex, a secret abortion, piles of cash hidden in steel canisters and coldblooded murder.
Jurors heard testimony in the capital murder trial of Daniel Duffy, 36, a high-rolling businessman who allegedly hired three Palm Bay men to kill his father-in-law, who was cooperating with federal investigators looking into Duffy’s shady business practices.
Duffy allegedly hired the Palm Bay hit men to kill John Torres, 45, outside Torres’ home in Sebastian on Nov. 27, 2009, because Duffy believed Torres was cooperating with investigators.
Duffy was convicted in Orlando federal court of mortgage fraud against several Indian River County banks and sentenced to seven years in prison — but not before he arranged for Torres’ slaying, according to prosecutors.
In the trial before Circuit Judge Robert L. Pegg, several witnesses testified Duffy told them he wanted Torres dead for not returning most of the $300,000 Duffy hid in steel pipes and entrusted to Torres while federal agents investigated Duffy.
Assistant State Attorney Daryl Isenhower told jurors Brian Smith, 32, of Palm Bay and two other men were working for Duffy when they stalked Torres in Sebastian, where Smith “walked up and shot John Torres and killed him.”
“This happened because Daniel Duffy wanted John Torres dead because he believed John Torres was an informant with federal authorities,” Isenhower said.
Smith pleaded guilty to the slaying and is cooperating with investigators, along with another defendant, Marciano Dort, 33. A third Palm Bay man, Lucien Dort, 28, pleaded innocent and was convicted of first-degree murder May 22 and sentenced to life in prison.
The Palm Bay men were arrested after Indian River County sheriff’s Sgt. James Hyde heard gunfire while at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and quickly pulled over the alleged assassins’ vehicle.
Prosecutors focused on Duffy as the criminal mastermind behind the slaying. After the Palm Bay men were arrested, prosecutors said Duffy attempted to harass potential witnesses and even went to the Indian River County Prosecutor’s Office to attempt to sway prosecutors to not focus on him.
“He talks in millions and acts like a big shot,” Isenhower said.
Duffy’s attorney, Sean Wagner, told jurors, “Mr. Duffy likes to run his mouth. Maybe he wants people to think he’s something he’s not. He has no filter. It will come back to bite him in the butt.”
Wagner told jurors Duffy, who owned homes in Aruba and Brevard and Indian River counties, met his wife, Nicole Torres, while she was a prostitute in New York.
The couple moved to Florida, where Duffy launched the Family Cellular phone company, which went under soon after Duffy wined and dined clients with box seats at Orlando Magic games.
Meanwhile, Marciano Dort and Nicole Torres were engaged in a torrid sexual affair, Wagner said. On the day of her father’s murder, Nicole Torres learned she was pregnant and worried the baby would be look like Dort.
So Torres had an abortion, Wagner said, adding Dort met Duffy and Nicole Torres because they were hooked on OxyContin and he was their supplier.
Wagner told jurors Nicole Torres was behind her father’s murder because when Duffy went to jail, she stood to lose her extravagant lifestyle — unless she seized the money held by John Torres.
Duffy, whose first murder trial ended in a hung jury, faces the death penalty if convicted.