Holyoke, Massachusetts Man, Previously Charged with Melissa Barratt Murder and Drug Distribution Conspiracy, Arraigned on Additional Charges Involving Firearms
Burlington, VT – The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont stated today that Frank Caraballo, 30, of Holyoke, Massachusetts, pleaded not guilty to superseding firearms charges. The Superseding Indictment was returned by the Rutland federal grand jury on December 5, 2012. At today's hearing, the United States Attorney's Office also gave notice to the Court that the Attorney General of the United States has determined that the United States will not seek the death penalty in this matter for the charge of murdering Melissa Barratt. Caraballo did not appear in person at this hearing but his plea was entered through his attorney.
Caraballo had previously pled not guilty to a two-count indictment alleging that Caraballo was involved in a large crack cocaine, cocaine powder, and heroin drug conspiracy and that he used a firearm in furtherance of this drug distribution conspiracy to murder Melissa Barratt. The Superseding Indictment to which Caraballo pled not guilty today repeats those two charges and adds two additional firearms charges alleging: (1) that Caraballo unlawfully possessed three different firearms in July 2011 after having previously been convicted of four prior drug felonies; and (2) that Caraballo used a Desert Eagle .357 caliber pistol in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in July 2011. This latter offense is often charged when a drug dealer allegedly traded drugs for a firearm.
Melissa Barratt's body was discovered in a wooded area off East West Road in Dummerston, Vermont on July 29, 2011. Caraballo was initially charged in State Court in Brattleboro with second degree murder but that case was dismissed without prejudice in light of the federal drug and firearms investigation. According to Court documents filed in connection with the State case, Caraballo had accused Barratt of stealing a significant amount of drugs from his room at the Super 8 motel in Brattleboro. When Barratt did not return the drugs, Caraballo took her to Dummerston and shot her in the head.
The United States Attorney emphasizes that the charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations and that the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If Caraballo is convicted on the murder charge, as charged in the Indictment, he faces a maximum of life imprisonment. Because of Caraballo's prior felony drug convictions, if he is convicted on the drug conspiracy charge of distributing 280 grams or more of crack cocaine, he is subject to mandatory life imprisonment and up to a $10,000,000 fine. If he is convicted of both counts of using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, one involving a discharge of a weapon, he is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years, which would be consecutive to a sentence to the underlying drug offense.
Chief Judge Christina Reiss in U.S. District Court in Rutland previously sentenced Caraballo to 200 months of imprisonment and a life term of supervised release for other charges involving the distribution of crack cocaine in the Brattleboro area in July 2011.
This case is being jointly investigated by the Vermont State Police, the Southeast Vermont Drug Task Force, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The United States Attorney commends the exemplary work of the state and federal law enforcement agencies jointly investigating this matter. In addition, the United States Attorney stated that the investigation was greatly facilitated by the assistance of the office of Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Kelly Shriver.
The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Van de Graaf, Joseph Perella and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Brown. Brown is a Windham County Deputy State's Attorney, who was appointed to work on the federal prosecution with the U.S. Attorney's Office. Caraballo is represented by Mark Kaplan, Esq. of Burlington and Natasha Sen, Esq. of Brandon.