State drops murder charges
BRATTLEBORO -- The state has dropped second-degree murder charges against Frank Caraballo, 29, of Holyoke, Mass., in the death of Melissa Barratt, 31, of Brattleboro, whose body was found July 29 in a wooded area near the Dummerston Covered Bridge.
Charges against his alleged accomplice, Joshua Makhanda-Lopez, 22, of Springfield, Mass., were also dropped. He was charged with aiding Caraballo in the homicide of Barratt.
On Thursday, Caraballo and Makhanda-Lopez were charged in federal court by the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont in a six-count indictment alleging that they conspired to distribute crack cocaine in June and July of 2011 in the Brattleboro area.
Tristram Coffin, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, said he had no comment on whether his office would also be charging Caraballo and Makhanda-Lopez in the death of Barratt.
"I'm not going to comment on the investigation," he said. However, he hinted at the seriousness of the crimes allegedly committed by Caraballo and Makhanda-Lopez.
"We tend to focus our resources on the most significant drug trafficking cases," said Coffin.
The federal government has jurisdiction to charge drug trafficking cases whether or not the alleged activity crossed state lines, he added.
According to a press release from Coffin's office, Caraballo pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Makanda-Lopez has yet to be arraigned.
The United States has moved to detain Caraballo without bail pending trial. At a hearing on Thursday before Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Caraballo asked for a continuance of the detention hearing.
The hearing will now be held on Sept. 15 in federal court in Rutland. Conroy ordered that Caraballo should be held without bail pending the detention hearing.
Prior to being charged in federal court, both men were being held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.
Coffin would not reveal whether the men are still be held there or elsewhere.
According to documents filed in the Criminal Division of Windham Superior Court, Caraballo, a convicted drug dealer in Massachusetts and New York, forced Barratt into a car with the help of Makhanda-Lopez and drove her to a rural area along East West Road in Dummerston where Caraballo led Barratt into the woods and shot and killed her.
Caraballo was also charged by the state with seven drug charges and aggravated assault. Those charges were also dropped by the state, as were similar charges lodged against Makhanda-Lopez.
All of the state charges against Caraballo and Makhanda-Lopez were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the state could re-file charges against the pair in the future.
Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver had no comment on the state's decision to drop the charges against the pair.
The case is being jointly investigated by the Vermont State Police, the Southeast Vermont Drug Task Force, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The United States Attorney emphasizes that the charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
If they are convicted on the drug conspiracy charge, they are subject to five to 40 years in jail and up to a $5,000,000 fine.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.
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