Indictment alleges they kidnapped and murdered the four missing crew mates of the Joe Cool. They could face the death penalty.
By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 26, 2007
MIAMI — Two men who said they survived a pirate attack that killed four others aboard a luxury charter fishing boat last month were indicted Thursday on charges of robbery, kidnapping and first-degree murder of the missing boaters.
Kirby Logan Archer and Guillermo Zarabozo entered pleas of not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra in a case that has sent a chill through Florida boating circles.
Archer, 36, and Zarabozo, 20, will remain jailed as they await trial before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck. Bandstra denied bail Tuesday after prosecutors contended that the men might flee or pose a danger to the community if released.
Both men could face the death penalty if convicted. They also are charged with stealing the million-dollar boat they had chartered for $4,000 in cash.
The 47-foot sport fisher Joe Cool was found abandoned and ransacked about 35 miles north of Cuba on Sept. 23 after its owners reported it overdue from the chartered cruise from Miami Beach to Bimini Bay in the Bahamas.
A Coast Guard search for the vessel, its crew and its clients found the two men floating in the Joe Cool's life raft 15 hours after the ghost ship was found.
Neither the bodies of the four missing crew members nor a murder weapon has been recovered. The government has no witnesses or confessions, but intends to proceed with circumstantial evidence and inconsistencies in the men's statements in its effort to prove they plotted to hijack the boat, murder the crew and, apparently, escape to Cuba.
Archer was wanted in Arkansas on allegations of stealing $92,000 from the Batesville Wal-Mart, where he worked as an assistant manager until he disappeared after the alleged theft in January. He is also being investigated for alleged child molestation in Sharp County, Ark.
Zarabozo, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to Miami with his mother from their native Cuba in 1999, has apparently never been in trouble with the law.
Little is known about how the two men met or what might have motivated them to hijack the Joe Cool and kill its crew, as the U.S. attorney's office has alleged in a six-page indictment filed just minutes before a deadline to charge or release the suspects.
Archer and Zarabozo told Coast Guard and FBI investigators after their rescue that three Cuban pirates had commandeered the sport fisher en route to Bimini. They said the men executed the boat's captain, Jake Branam, and his wife, Kelley, then shot crewmen Scott Gamble and Samuel Kairy when they refused to throw the couple's bodies overboard. Zarabozo disposed of the bodies, both told interrogators.
The defendants were escorted into court on either end of a 15-man chain gang for a full calendar of arraignments in Bandstra's court. Both watched the other proceedings with interest but betrayed no emotion in those cases or their own. Archer at one point stole a long glance at the younger defendant, but they otherwise ignored each other.