Caraballo takes the stand in his defense


RUTLAND -- On what ended up being the final day of testimony, Frank Caraballo, who stands accused of killing Melissa Barratt on July, 28, 2011, took the witness stand Monday.

Caraballo said he was not present when Barratt had been murdered and denied seeing her dead. He also said that keeping firearms around for situations that may arise out of the drug business was not his idea.

"I didn't see it as necessary," said Caraballo. "We were in Vermont."

The prosecution alleges Caraballo killed Barratt because he suspected her of stealing a safe containing $10,000 worth of cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin. One of his business associates, Joshua Makhanda Lopez, had testified earlier in the case that Caraballo pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Barratt. Her body was later found in a wooded area of Dummerston.

When asked about what he had to lose by lying in his testimony, Caraballo said he had everything to lose.

Throughout the hearing, Caraballo denied ever holding the firearm and pointing it at Barratt in her friend's kitchen as well as pointing it at her in the Dummerston woods. He also denied several events leading up to the murder.

Caraballo said that his daughter's mother had picked him up at the Price Chopper in Brattleboro and took him back to her home in Holyoke, Mass., before the murder had occurred.

When asked if Makhanda Lopez had given him the gun before Barratt was shot, he responded, "Absolutely not." Caraballo also maintained several times that he did not shoot Barratt.

Prosecutors brought up the initial investigation of the murder, in which Caraballo admitted that he lied during questioning from Vermont State Police detectives.

"I've seen enough TV to know if they're questioning me, they suspect me," he said.

Caraballo denied any mentioning of threats to Barratt or her friend who testified earlier in the trial. Her friend had claimed that he was threatening Barratt.

The Reformer editorial board made a decision to only name people involved in the case against Caraballo who have been charged in federal court and have accepted plea agreements in exchange for testifying. Even though it is a matter of public record, the Reformer, due to safety concerns, will not publish the names of confidential informants or witnesses who have not been charged with a federal crime.

In a recording that was played on Monday, Caraballo said that it was either Lopez or Barratt who stole the safe.

"I don't know which one of them to bust off," Caraballo is heard saying in the conversation with his brother.

When the prosecution's attorney Paul Van de Graaf inquired of his intent, Caraballo claimed he meant he was going to slap or punch one of the two people he suspected of stealing.

At one moment during his testimony, Caraballo became excited when Van de Graaf asked if Barratt was scared in the hours leading up to her death.

"Of course she was scared of us," he said, referring to Lopez and himself. "She stole from us."

The prosecution was also attempting to build its case around conspiracy to sell drugs, especially in regard to crack cocaine.

Prosecutors attempted to point out that there were more sales of the substance than Caraballo was admitting to.

The government played recordings where Caraballo described the process of breaking down packages of drugs for distribution. In one recording, he remarked about making $6,000 to $10,000 a week selling drugs.

Caraballo denied crack cocaine being a big factor of his income during the time he was selling drugs. He told the jury that powdered cocaine and heroin were sold the most often.

"That was what was moving," he added.

A fellow inmate of Makhanda Lopez, from the jail in St. Albans, took the stand before the end of the day. He said Lopez had shown him pictures of firearms that put him in jail.

"He wouldn't say yes. He wouldn't say no," the inmate said, when he asked Lopez whether he had been the one who murdered Barratt.

The closing statements will be heard today. After that, the jury will be given their instructions, which will be laid out for them by Judge Christina Reiss.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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