By Vanessa Blum
1:07 PM EDT, October 23, 2007
A federal magistrate denied bond Tuesday for two men accused of murdering four crewmembers aboard the Joe Cool fishing vessel, saying circumstantial evidence supported the government's charges.
U.S. Magistrate Ted Bandstra noted Kirby Archer, 35, of Strawberry, Ark., and Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, of Hialeah, would face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.
"That in and of itself in the view of this court is an incentive to flee," Bandstra said.
Federal prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges Oct. 10 against Archer and Zarabozo in the deaths of Joe Cool Capt. Jake Branam, 27; his wife Kelley, 30; half brother Scott Gamble, 36; and crewman Samuel Kairy, 27.
Prosecutor Michael Gilfarb told Bandstra that Archer and Zarabozo were on a "one-way trip out of the country" and murdered the four crewmembers to eliminate any witnesses.
Gilfarb said knives and a blow gun found in Zarabozo's belongings were not items "you would take on vacation."
The two suspects, who paid $4,000 in cash for a charter to Bimini, were found Sept. 24 in the Joe Cool's life raft about 30 miles north of Cuba. The Miami Beach-based Joe Cool was found adrift several miles from the raft, abandoned and in disarray.
On board the vessel, investigators discovered human blood and a handcuff key, Gilfarb said. A second handcuff key was discovered in Zarabozo's luggage.
Archer and Zarabozo told investigators three hijackers commandeered the Joe Cool and shot the crew. Zarabozo said the hijackers left him unharmed after he agreed to throw the bodies overboard, prosecutors said.
Gilfarb said investigators still have not recovered the victims' bodies or a murder weapon. Among the evidence linking Archer and Zarabozo to the killings are four 9-mm shell casings found aboard the Joe Cool, he said.
A receipt for similar ammunition was found during a search of Zarabozo's home.
Defense attorney Anthony Natale, one of two lawyers representing Zarabozo, asked the government's lead investigator whether there was evidence to disprove his client's hijacking account.
"I cannot present any evidence of any other vessel in the area at that time," said Richard Blais, a Coast Guard investigator.
In charging the men with murder, prosecutors have emphasized contradictions in their stories about the hijacking. For instance, Archer told investigators he saw a man shoot Kelley Branam, while Zarabozo said Archer was not present for her killing.
Archer's attorney Allan Kaiser said such discrepancies do not indicate guilt. He said the government has no hard evidence pointing to Archer.
"We're talking about a horrendous, tragic incident that occurred on this boat," Kaiser said. "It is no wonder that perceptions differ."
Vanessa Blum can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4605.