Caraballo appeal rejected again

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BURLINGTON — A federal judge issued a report recommending a man found responsible for the death of a Brattleboro woman in 2011 not be allowed to appeal his convictions.

According to a report and recommendation written by Judge John M. Conroy, Frank Caraballo has submitted motions "to vacate, set aside, or correct two judgments imposed on him" as a result of "ineffective representation" provided by his defense counsel.

"Concluding that Caraballo has failed to establish in ... that his attorneys' performance at any stage of these proceedings was objectively deficient, or that Caraballo suffered prejudice from their allegedly deficient performance, it is recommended that Caraballo's ... [m]otion be [denied]," wrote Conroy.

On July 29, 2011, Melissa Barratt's body was discovered in a wooded area off East West Road in Dummerston. Caraballo was eventually charged in federal court with various drug and firearm offenses, including using a firearm during a drug trafficking offense and causing the murder of Barratt. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont, Caraballo regularly traveled from Holyoke, Mass., to southern Vermont with substantial amounts of narcotics and distributed them.

According to testimony given during his 2013 trial, Barratt assisted Caraballo in the sale of some of these drugs. The day before her body was discovered, Caraballo accused Barratt of stealing a significant amount of drugs from his room at the Super 8 motel in Brattleboro, according to witness testimony. When Barratt did not return the drugs, Caraballo took her to Dummerston and shot her in the head, contended prosecutors.

After a three week trial beginning in mid-September 2013, the jury convicted Caraballo on the firearm and drug conspiracy counts. Though the jury found that Caraballo caused the death of Barratt, they did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Caraballo actually discharged the weapon that caused Barratt's death. In its sentencing memorandum, the government argued that Caraballo was an "unrepentant criminal" who "deserves life for a cold blooded murder while being a career drug trafficker."

Caraballo was sentenced to 200 months on the charge of distributing cocaine and heroin; 420 months on the chargers related to Barratt's death; and 120 months on the charge of being a felon in possession of handgun. All those sentences were imposed to run concurrently, but a 60 month sentence of carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime was tacked on to run consecutively, meaning he received a 40 year sentence

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Prior to his 2013 trial, Caraballo had pleaded guilty to five counts of knowingly and intentionally distributing cocaine base, for which he received a 16 year sentence.

Caraballo appealed his plea agreement and his jury conviction several times, both to the U.S. District Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing there wasn't enough evidence to convict him of causing Barratt's death. He also claimed the police had violated his Fourth Amendment rights when it tracked his cell phone prior to his arrest without obtaining a warrant first.

According to court documents, cell phone providers can supply such information if "a governmental entity ... in good faith, believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay of information relating to the emergency."

Caraballo even went as far as petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing. His petition was denied.

Caraballo most recently filed motions to the U.S. District Court that he received ineffective representation from his defense attorneys. But, noted Conroy, "His defense counsel filed numerous other pretrial motions on behalf of Caraballo as part of their aggressive defense of Caraballo. Caraballo largely repeats the meritless arguments he advanced in his [previous motions]."

In addition, wrote Conroy, Caraballo's motions should not be denied because "his claims are procedurally barred because Caraballo makes no claim that he is actually innocent ... nor does he demonstrate actual prejudice."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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