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Oct. 24, 2007 | Ghost boat suspects to stay in jail

The murder case against them is largely circumstantial, but two men accused of killing four Miami Beach crew members will remain behind bars in solitary confinement until their trial.

At a bond hearing Tuesday, a federal magistrate sided with prosecutors arguing for the detention of Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, of Hialeah, and Kirby Archer, 35, of Arkansas, who chartered the alleged victims' sportfishing boat last month.


U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra said "these types of charges are supported by circumstantial evidence, " citing a recent criminal complaint. It compared four 9mm shell casings found on the Joe Cool and a receipt for 9mm bullets discovered in Zarabozo's Hialeah home.

Bandstra said the fact the two suspects are facing possible life or death sentences was also incentive to flee.

The pair are expected to be indicted on first-degree murder charges Wednesday or Thursday morning just before their arraignment.

They are being held in the special housing unit at the Federal Detention Center on the preliminary murder complaint.

The unit is an isolated section for high-profile defendants, such as Colombian drug kingpins.

Federal prosecutors argued that the two suspects are a danger to the community and a flight risk, detailing their alleged "inconsistent statements" about a pirate hijacking on the high seas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gilfarb said the two men, who paid $4,000 in cash for a one-way trip to Bimini on Sept. 22, were fleeing the country -- possibly to Cuba. "This was a one-way trip out of the country that resulted in the elimination of witnesses to that flight by way of murder, " he said at Tuesday's bond hearing.

Missing and presumed dead are captain Jake Branam, 27; his wife, Kelley Branam, 30; Branam's half-brother, Scott Gamble, 35, and first mate Samuel Kairy, 27, all of Miami Beach. The Branams leave behind a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son.

Defense attorneys had argued for the release of the two men because of thin evidence against them.

They said allegations that their statements to investigators were inconsistent didn't add up to incriminating conduct.


"We're talking about a horrendous, tragic incident that occurred on this boat, " said Archer's attorney, Allan Kaiser.

"It is no wonder that perceptions differ."

Kaiser, a former federal prosecutor, also said authorities would be skeptical even if the suspects' stories were in sync.

"We're in a position where we can't win either way, " said Kaiser, who downplayed that his client was wanted on theft charges and was under investigation for child abuse in Arkansas.


Assistant Federal Defender Faith Mesnekoff scoffed at the prosecution's allegations of inconsistent statements, saying investigators did not record the suspects' statements aboard a Coast Guard cutter.

"The government is grabbing at straws, " she said.

Anthony Natale, an attorney for Zarabozo, asked the lead investigator whether there was any evidence to disprove his client's hijacking account.

"I cannot present any evidence of any other vessel in the area at that time, " said Richard Blais Jr., a Coast Guard investigator on an FBI task force.

Natale also asked him about other recovered evidence -- blood stains, shell casings and computers. Blais gave inconclusive answers, saying lab results weren't finished yet.