A Massachusetts man charged with killing a Brattleboro woman won’t face the death penalty, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
Frank Caraballo, 31, of Holyoke, Mass., continues to face multiple life sentences for allegedly killing 30-year-old Melissa Barratt — whose body was found in a wooded area off East West Road in Dummerston on July 29, 2011 — conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine in Vermont and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Van de Graaf said during an arraignment and status hearing in Rutland that the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. informed federal prosecutors in Vermont recently that the death penalty wouldn’t be sought in Caraballo’s case.
“It will not be a death penalty case,” Van de Graaf said, adding after the hearing that the death penalty was only considered for the charge involving Barratt’s killing.
Caraballo wasn’t present during the hearing in U.S. District Court. His attorney, Burlington attorney Mark Kaplan, entered innocent pleas to the four charges.
Caraballo had already answered to the charges of drug trafficking and use of a firearm to kill Barratt during an arraignment in September. He answered to the charges again after federal prosecutors brought the possession of firearms charges earlier this month.
The topic of the firearm allegedly used to kill Barratt may become a focal point for Kaplan, who said after the hearing that no firearm has been produced in the case.
“There is no gun entered into evidence,” he said. “They’ve been testing a shell case and a bullet.”
During the hearing before Judge Christina Reiss, Kaplan said the defense might hire a firearms expert to examine the government’s evidence.
Van de Graaf and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Perella, who is also prosecuting the cases against Caraballo, declined to say what firearms the government had in evidence.
But in the two new indictments brought against Caraballo, prosecutors say Caraballo unlawfully possessed three firearms in July 2011 after having previously been convicted of four felony drug charges and prosecutors said he used a Desert Eagle .357-caliber pistol in a drug trafficking crime in July 2011.
Much of the hearing Wednesday was taking up scheduling issues for motions in the case and, eventually, a trial which both the defense and prosecution agreed was more likely in the case than a plea deal.
“My sense on this is that Mr. Kaplan said Mr. Caraballo would never plead to the killing and I don’t think the government can resolve this case without an admission about what happened to Melissa Barratt,” Van de Graaf said.
For his part, Kaplan told the judge the case was likely to go to trial unless prosecutors offered a deal with a sentence length less than life behind bars.
When the case could be ready for trial remains uncertain.
With more than 2,500 pages of written statements, 40 hours of recorded jailhouse telephone conversations and dozens of interviews to perform with individuals who gave statements to police, Kaplan said he didn’t think the case would be ready for some time.
But with Caraballo behind bars serving a 16-year federal prison sentence on five drug dealing convictions, Kaplan said he could see no reason to rush the case to trial.
“He’s got a 16-year sentence. He’s not going anyplace,” he said.
Kaplan also said prosecutors and police have had a head-start in the case which initially resulted in a second-degree murder charge in Brattleboro criminal court before being dismissed to allow federal charges to proceed.
Caraballo accused Barratt of stealing drugs from his motel room in Brattleboro in 2011, according to court documents in the Vermont case.
When Barratt didn’t return the drugs, Caraballo and an alleged accomplice took Barratt to Dummerston where Caraballo allegedly shot her and left her for dead.
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