Texas jeweler guilty of murder

A Texas jeweler has been found guilty of murder in the shooting death and robbery of a New York traveling jewelry salesman, and has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The jury in the Seguin, Texas, trial of jeweler Alejandro Torres, 27, took only two hours to reach their guilty verdict Jan. 29. He was sentenced by the court immediately afterward.

Torres had been charged with the murder of Majid “Mike” Zerovabeli, 38, and theft of diamond jewelry valued at more than $500,000, which the victim was carrying.

Zerovabeli, who worked for H & J Namdar in New York City, disappeared last year while on business in Texas. His last known stop was Feb. 21, 2001 at Torres’ MRT Jewelry store in Sequin, just east of San Antonio, Texas.

Zerovabeli’s family reported him missing after he failed to arrive at a relative’s home that evening. Family and friends subsequently offered a $25,000 reward, hired private investigators to work with the authorities, and organized helicopter searches of the area he traveled.

W.C. Kirkendale, district attorney for the 25th judicial district of Texas, told JCK that on Feb. 27, after failing an FBI lie detector test, Torres confessed to Texas Rangers that he killed Zerovabeli. He took them to a shallow grave on his parents’ property in a nearby town, where he had buried him. Authorities also found most of the missing diamond jewelry in Torres’ store, home, and in his pockets, said Kirkendale. “He had already removed many of the diamonds from their settings,” he told JCK.

State prosecutors charged Torres with “capital murder,” contending his business was in financial trouble and that he killed the jewelry salesman for the diamond jewelry he was carrying. “It was basic robbery 101,” a member of the district attorney’s office had told JCK earlier.

Torres’ defense lawyers didn’t deny he killed Zerovabeli. However, they claimed his use of anabolic steroids-part of his physical fitness regimen-had made him abnormally aggressive and caused him to shoot the salesman. They introduced Torres’ wife, mother, and medical experts to support the claim of “steroidal rage.”

Torres took the stand in his own defense on Jan. 28, the fourth day of the trial. At times emotional, Torres claimed a troubled childhood, including abandonment and alleged sexual abuse by a relative. He said an argument with the salesman caused an uncontrollable rage in him, though he claimed to remember little of the actual killing, in which he shot Zerovabeli in the back several times at close range with a handgun.

The jury’s quick verdict-unusual in a murder case, said Kirkendale afterward-indicated “they didn’t buy the steroidal rage [claim],” said the district attorney. He suggested Torres’s testimony “may have hurt him” with the jury.

Torres’s lawyers have 30 days in which to appeal.

During the trial, many relatives, friends, and acquaintances of Zerovabeli had called his office to tell him “what a good guy Mike was,” Kirkendale told JCK. A memorial service for Zerovabeli was held Jan. 17 in New York City. Among the 500 people attending was the chief of police of San Antonio.

Friends and family of the jewelry salesman, who came to Texas at their own expense, were in court for most of the trial. Ironically, the trial went longer than expected, and they had to return home Jan. 29, before the verdict was rendered. Kirkendale was in contact with them immediately after the trial ended.