Building A Case, Without The Bodies

MIAMI - SEPTEMBER 26: The charter boat Joe Cool is seen at the U.S. Coast Guard station as the FBI continues to investigate what happened to four members of the crew September 26, 2007 in Miami, Florida. FBI agents were questioning the two men who were picked up in a life boat on Monday after they chartered the boat from Miami. Missing from the boat are the boat's captain, Jake Branam; his wife, Kelly Branam; and crew members Scott Gamble and Samuel Kairy.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Without bodies or more evidence than they've revealed so far, federal prosecutors and the FBI might have to depend on a confession to solve the disappearance of four crew members of a fishing charter boat that was carrying two passengers, picked up from the ocean and now in federal custody.

Both men are jailed in connection with the case: 35-year-old Kirby Logan Archer of Strawberry, Ark., because he's a fugitive from the robbery of an Arkansas Wal-Mart; and 19-year-old Guillermo Zarabozo of Hialeah, because he is accused of lying to the FBI about ever being on the "Joe Cool" charter boat.

A bail hearing was postponed Friday until Tuesday, giving the FBI more time to gather evidence in what is being investigated as a quadruple slaying. The Coast Guard suspended its search Thursday for the four crew members without finding any trace.

"They can proceed in the absence of bodies, but it's much more difficult because the body usually gives you some information you can use that sometimes connects to the defendant," said James Cohen, law professor at Fordham University.

Most often in such cases, he added, the defendants are pressured to confess, told by their own lawyers that "we can make a deal here if you're willing to rat out the other guy."

Cohen said it was "highly likely that one or both of these people are going to talk."

Authorities don't find credible a story told by Zarabozo about the boat being set upon by unknown pirates on its way from Miami to Bimini, Bahamas, last weekend. Zarabozo told the FBI that these hijackers boarded the vessel and shot the captain and three crew members one by one, forcing him to throw the bodies into the sea, according to court documents.

"There have been no reports of pirate activity in the Caribbean," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jennifer Johnson.

No weapons were listed in an FBI affidavit of items found on the boat, although a handcuffs key was found. Apparent blood was located on the stern of the boat, which may be strong evidence depending on the results of lab analysis.

Archer and Zarabozo were found in the boat's life raft about 12 miles away after the "Joe Cool" apparently ran out of gas, according to the FBI. After starting out east of Miami bound for Bimini, the boat made an abrupt turn south and then was abandoned.

The FBI affidavit doesn't quote either man as offering an explanation about why the supposed hijackers let them go, or why they had their luggage with them on the life raft.

Cuba would be an ideal destination for both, because Zarabozo was born there and Archer, who speaks Spanish, served there as a military police investigator at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay. Cuba has no extradition treaty with the United States and rarely produces fugitives being sought for U.S. crimes.

Archer attorney Allan Kaiser said he expects prosecutors to disclose more evidence next week.

"We're going to see what the government has to offer," Kaiser said.

Zarabozo attorney Faith Mesnekoff declined comment but did say in court that the FBI and prosecutors have been notified that they should not interview Zarabozo without her present. Zarabozo's mother was in court Friday but left without speaking with reporters.

It's clear that Archer had motives to flee the country.

Authorities in Arkansas say Archer was under investigation for child molestation before the Wal-Mart where he was a manager was robbed and he vanished in January.

"To the average Joe Public, the case circumstantially appears to be highly suspicious and most people would say they must have done it," Bill Matthewman, a prominent criminal defense lawyer told the Miami Herald.

"But from the point of view of the court of law, the case doesn't meet the standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not a slam dunk case."

Amie Gamble believes the two men know what happened to her two brothers, her sister-in-law and a friend, all of whom are missing and presumed dead.

"It's more than crucifying these two," Gamble told the Herald. "It's closure for the family. At least we'd know, if these people would just admit it. They're not going anywhere for a long time. Just admit it... so the family can move on."

The four missing are boat captain Jake Branam, 27; his wife, Kelley Branam, 30; his half-brother, Scott Gamble, 30; and 27-year-old Samuel Kairy.

Also Thursday, several Branam family members filed petitions in Miami-Dade County court seeking temporary custody of the Branams' two young children - a nearly 3-year-old girl and a four-month-old boy.