Convicted killer Frank Caraballo has been denied an acquittal by a federal judge who found that a jury didn’t contradict itself by convicting him of using a handgun to kill a Brattleboro woman but failing to convict him of pulling the trigger.
Caraballo, 31, was convicted in October of conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, use of a firearm while drug trafficking and causing the death “by murder through the use of a firearm” of Melissa Barratt.
The body of Barratt, 30, of Brattleboro, was found July 29, 2011 in the woods of Dummerston.
But the jury that heard 11 days of testimony during his trial failed to convict Caraballo, of Holyoke, Mass., of actually pulling the trigger of the gun used to kill Barratt.
That apparent contradiction drove Caraballo’s defense team to file a motion for acquittal on the grounds that the case made by federal prosecutors rested on the principle that he shot and killed Barratt.
“It’s a core piece of the government’s case,” defense attorney Natasha Sen said during arguments last year in U.S. District Court in Rutland. “There are insufficient facts to support causation.”
But in a 19-page decision issued Thursday, federal Judge Christina Reiss found that the defense’s arguments overlooked several potential conclusions that jurors could have arrived at.
“Defendant is simply incorrect that these outcomes are inherently inconsistent with the evidence presented at trial,” the judge wrote. “The jury found only that the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant discharged the firearm.”
One potential reason for the split verdict, Reiss wrote, could be a question over whether Caraballo or his partner, Joshua Makhanda-Lopez, shot Barratt on orders from Caraballo.
Mahkanda-Lopez was the only witness to testify that he was present when Barratt was killed. He told the jury that he saw Caraballo execute Barratt by standing behind her and shooting her once in the back of the head.
During Caraballo’s trial, his defense team argued that Makhanda-Lopez was the real killer.
But in her decision, Reiss said the evidence in the case was convincing that if Makhanda-Lopez had pulled the trigger, that he was acting as an instrument of Caraballo.
“Defendant’s theory of the case was that Mr. Lopez discharged the firearm, but because Mr. Lopez had no independent reason to shoot Ms. Barratt, the jury could have found that he did so at (Caraballo’s) direction....”
Caraballo faces the potential of multiple lifetime sentences on his convictions. No date has been scheduled yet for a sentencing hearing.
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