September 15, 2013

Trial approaches in alleged Vermont drug killing

Frank Caraballo of Holyoke, Mass., is accused of executing a woman who he thought had stolen drugs from him.

By WILSON RING The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A Massachusetts man charged with taking a Vermont woman he thought had stolen drugs from him into the woods and shooting her in the head two years ago is set to go on trial Monday in federal court in Rutland.

Federal prosecutors had considered seeking the death penalty against Frank Caraballo, of Holyoke, Mass., for his role in the July 2011 shooting death of Melissa Barratt as part of a drug crime. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

When Barratt's body was found, authorities said, her hands were clasped as though she had been praying. The killing was unusual in Vermont, where most killings stem from domestic disputes or occur during alcohol or drug-fueled arguments.

Defense attorneys are expected to seek to exclude statements Caraballo made to police the day of his arrest.

Caraballo was well known to police and federal prosecutors prior to the death of Barratt. About two months before, Barratt cried and shook after her arrest on drug charges while telling a state police detective she was afraid of Caraballo, who she said often traded guns and firearms.

U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin declined to comment Friday. Caraballo's attorney Mark Kaplan said Friday whatever comments he would make, he would make in court.

Opening statements are Monday. The jury trial is expected to last two weeks.

Vermont police were called on July 29, 2011, after a body was found in the woods off East West Road in Dummerston, just north of Brattleboro. Nearby carpenters later told police they had heard what sounded like a gunshot.

Prosecutors say Caraballo and been looking for Barratt, with whom he had a sexual relationship, because he felt she had taken drugs that belonged to him.

Caraballo was initially charged in state court with second-degree murder, along with Joshua Makhanda-Lopez, 24, of Springfield.

The state charges were dismissed after federal prosecutors took over the case. Makhanda-Lopez has since reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for testifying against Caraballo.

State court documents say Makhanda-Lopez was driving a car with Caraballo and Barratt when Caraballo asked him to pull over on the road in Dummerston. Caraballo got something from the trunk, and he and Barratt then walked into the woods.

Caraballo came back alone a few minutes later, telling Makhanda-Lopez that Barratt was going to get a ride from someone else. Barratt's body was found a short time later.

Both men were arrested later that day. They have been in custody since their arrests.

click image to enlarge

Frank Caraballo

The Associated Press

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