RUTLAND -- The jurors tasked with determining the fate of a man accused of a drug-related murder decided Tuesday to break for the remainder of the day following closing arguments and reconvene at 9 a.m. today.
This pushes back the verdict of Frank Caraballo, 31, of Holyoke, Mass., at least one more day in U.S. District Court. The prosecution says Caraballo shot and killed Melissa Barratt in the a wooded area off Dummerston's East West Road in July 2011. According to court documents, Caraballo suspected Barratt, who sold drugs for him, of stealing a safe containing thousands of dollars of narcotics.
Caraballo is currently serving a 16-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute drugs.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Van de Graaf acknowledged Caraballo's statements on the witness stand Monday, but said they don't add up.
"The evidence you have seen and heard over the last two weeks easily overwhelms his denials," he told the jury, adding that its members would have to gauge the credibility of each witness. "Every day you make judgments on people's believability."
Van de Graaf said there were 10 reasons the jury should conclude that Caraballo murdered Barratt. He said it is clear Barratt was killed for stealing the missing drugs it is a logical conclusion that Caraballo pulled the trigger. Van de Graaf also said several witnesses during the trial said Caraballo had threatened to kill Barratt and one of those people, Joshua Makhunda-Lopez, the brother of one of Caraballo's half-brothers, had no reason to portray Caraballo any worse than he really is.
Caraballo, according to Van de Graaf, discarded both cell phones he was using at the time of Barratt's death and bought a new one. Van de Graaf also said ballistics evidence was consistent with all other evidence and Caraballo waited at least 20 minutes to ask how Barratt died when informed of her death during the post-arrest interview. This implies he already knew she was shot to death.
In regards to the weapons and drug charges against Caraballo, Van de Graaf said the defendant possessed a Desert Eagle .357 and distributed 280 grams or more of crack cocaine over a two-month period. The assistant U.S. attorney reminded the jury of the testimony of Kirstin Waterman, who lived with Caraballo and sold drugs for him. Van de Graaf said Waterman testified to selling narcotics every day and could distribute five or six G-packs (a thousand dollars worth of drugs) "on a good day." Van de Graaf said if Waterman averaged just one G-pack a day for two months, that's 120 8-balls of drugs, which amounts to more than 280 grams.
Van de Graaf then said Makhanda-Lopez was also selling drugs for Caraballo, who had customers of his own.
When Mark Kaplan, one of the lawyers defending Caraballo, addressed members of the jury, he said their recollections of the witnesses' accounts are the only ones that matter. He said the prosecution failed to prove Caraballo pulled the trigger and there is no murder weapon, fingerprints, gunshot residue or hair that links his client to Barratt's death.
"Do you really think a person careful enough to make sure the gun was never found would leave a 9mm casing next to the dead body?" he asked.
He also said "there should be a certain quality to the witnesses" but most had been in trouble with the law and given cooperation agreements in exchange for their testimony.
"They had a strong incentive to lie," he said.
Kaplan also showed the jury a photograph of Makhanda-Lopez, who admitted to putting the bullet into the gun before Caraballo killed Barratt, posing with a pump-action shotgun and said the man has "a fascination with firearms."
During Van de Graaf's rebuttal, he said there is no evidence that the government ever received the clothing Caraballo was wearing the day of Barratt's death (to check for blood or gunshot residue) and a witness had testified that the clothes were burned. He also said DNA is not relevant in this case and defended the photograph of Makhanda-Lopez, saying there is nothing illegal about posing with a pump-action shotgun.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.