A federal judge is scheduled to decide on whether to toss out statements made by two jailhouse informants. The cellmates were to provide testimony about suspects, Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, and Kirby Logan Archer, 36, who are accused of murdering four people on the Joe Cool charter fishing boat. Zarabozo and Archer could face the death penalty if convicted of murder. Both have pleaded innocent.
Kirby Logan Archer, a one-time Military Police officer from Arkansas, told others he did “undercover” work. Upon his capture, Archer was a fugitive from justice, wanted for molesting boys, and for stealing close to a hundred grand from his most recent employer, Wal-Mart.
Born to Betty and Sam Archer in Stuttgart, Arkansas, Kirby never stayed in one place for long. The Archers lived in Kansas and Oklahoma before settling in Oro Valley, Arizona. In high school, Kirby applied to the National Guard and was a member of the ROTC’s Color Guard at Canyon del Oro High School. In the early 1990s, the Archers returned to Arkansas. Kirby, by then an adult, had gotten into some trouble in Tucson; he was sentenced to probation for “contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a minor,” a misdemeanor. Mid-1990s Kirby joined the Army, becoming a Military Police investigator. He was stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the Cuban Rafter Crisis , when tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island on rafts. It was during this time that Kirby met Guillermo Zarabozo.
About Guillermo Zarabozo
Zarabozo's family was intercepted at sea and brought to the base where Archer was stationed. Kirby, then 23, took an interest in the eight-year-old Zarabozo boy. Zarabozo and his mother, Francisca Alonso Zarabozo, legally immigrated to the United States and settled in Hialeah, Florida, living with family in an apartment.
Kirby kept up with the Cuban boy and appeared to have had an impact on Zarabozo's life. At Hialeah High School, Guillermo was in ROTC and told classmates he wanted to be in the Army.
A Man with Nothing Left to Lose
Michelle Archer filed for divorce, and the court awarded Kirby custody of his boys, primarily because he had family in Arkansas. Kirby appeared to have moved on. He married again, settled in Strawberry, Arkansas, and took a job as customer service manager at a Wal-Mart in neighboring Batesville.
“He knew we were turning the information over to pursue charges,” said the investigator who'd interviewed the complaining children. “A couple of days later he took off.”
But not before leaving Wal-Mart’s for the last time. From the cashier's office, Kirby is suspected of stashing over $92,000 in cash and checks in a microwave he purchased with his employee discount and walking out, and away from the life he had known.
“I really messed up this time,” Kirby reportedly text-messaged his current wife. She claimed it was likely he would be going to Miami or Cuba, because that's where his closest friends were.
A Man on the Run
By summer's end, Archer had been on the lam for eight months. A couple of weeks before his capture at sea, Kirby told the Cuban family he had to leave town for an investigation.
A Man with a Plan
Zarabozo told the security agency he was to work for that he was leaving town. Cameras in the Miami area captured images of Archer and Zarabozo at a gun store and a local hotel. A cell phone was purchased with what authorities believe is a fictitious subscriber's name. How to get out of the country? Archer was wanted on an unlawful flight prosecution warrant out of Arkansas. Flying anywhere was out. Late September, an idea occurred to them.
The men were at Monty's restaurant, overlooking the Miami Beach Marina when Archer and Zarabozo approached the Joe Cool. A crewmember was on board the 47-foot yacht, a sportfishing charter boat with two staterooms and bathrooms. The men inquired about chartering the boat; said they wanted a ride to the Big Game Resort and Yacht Club in Bimini, where they were planning to meet “girlfriends.” The crewman gave the pair a business card to make a reservation.
An Unsuspecting Crew
On September 22, the passengers presented themselves with six pieces of luggage. One owner, Jeff Branam, greeted them and helped them with their bags, unaware of the contents, which included various weapons. Kirby paid the $4,000 fee. For fishing charters, the Joe Cool routinely carried a crew of four men. Because this was simply a boat ride—the first to the Bahamas—the captain's wife, Kelley, 30, decided to go along, leaving the couple's two small children with family. Rounding out the crew was Captain Jake Branam's half-brother, Scott Gamble, 35, and First Mate Sammy Kairy, 27. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Jon Branam, the captain’s cousin, said that Archer seemed friendly, and spoke in a Southern accent. Riding a Jet Ski, Jon even followed the boat out of the harbor. Everyone seemed happy. The crew's objective was to make sure their passengers had a blast.
The trip stopped about halfway into the fifty-mile ride. According to GPS, the boat, heading east toward Bimini, veered south toward Cuba, then drifted. The Joe Cool was due back Sunday, and had another charter scheduled for Monday. So when Branam saw no return and hadn't heard from the crew, he alerted the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard found the Joe Cool empty and the interior was in "disarray." Officials found shell casings and blood around the steps that led up from the stateroom. More blood was discovered on the stern and a fourth shell casing was located outside. A small key, which turned out to be a handcuff key, was on the bow. The life raft was missing.
Men in Dire Straits
A search of the men's belongings found $2,200 in hundred dollar bills, the cell phone of a bogus subscriber, a blowgun, darts, several knives, a handcuff key, and a receipt for a gun.
Men with Fishy Tales
Zarabozo said that the Joe Cool was cruising when a distress signal came over the radio. The captain steered the boat toward another vessel and a pirate came on board and commandeered the Joe Cool. Two other armed hijackers followed. They shot Jake Branam, and the captain's wife “became hysterical,” and she was also shot. The other two crewmembers were gunned down when they refused to dump the bodies overboard. Guillermo said the pirates told him that if he refused to cooperate, he would meet the same fate so he threw the crew overboard and complied with orders to clean up the blood.
The suspects both maintained that Archer was forced to drive the Joe Cool. After several hours, the boat ran out of gas. At this point the pirates radioed for help and a third vessel came and carried the hijackers away. The suspects would have authorities believe that after witnessing four murders and getting a good look at the killers Archer and Zarabozo were left behind, with luggage and $2,200 in cash. And that Joe Cool's navigational equipment and pricey fishing gear was of no interest to the “pirates.”
Authorities recovered three casings from the interior of the boat, and later confirmed that all four shell casings were fired by a single weapon, a Glock 9 millimeter.
Federal authorities searched Zarabozo's home. They didn’t find a weapon but discovered an empty lock box for a gun, an empty handcuff case, and also a receipt for a Glock 9 and ammunition.
Men with Everything to Lose
So, in question are:
—If the statements are thrown out, what will that do to the prosecution’s case?
—Defense also filed a motion to suppress evidence taken from Zarabozo’s apartment.
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