MIAMI (AP) — Four of the main suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s president made their first appearance in U.S. federal court Wednesday to face charges of conspiracy and participation in his assassination, a day after they were extradited to the United States for prosecution.
Haitian-Americans James Solages, Joseph Vincent and Christian Emmanuel Sanon and German Rivera Garcia, a Colombian citizen, appeared calm as they entered a federal court in Miami wearing beige prisoner uniforms with hand and foot shackles.
He did not speak at the hearing except to plead for a public defender when Judge Alicia Otajo-Reyes asked each if they could afford a lawyer.
Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes read the charges and appointed a different attorney for each.
Vincent, 57, and Rivera, 44, were among the first arrested after Jovenel Moise, 37, was shot 12 times at his private home near the capital Port-au-Prince on July 7, 2021. All three are charged with conspiracy. Murder or kidnapping outside the US and providing material support and resources to cause death.
Sanon, 54, a priest, doctor and failed businessman, is charged with conspiracy to smuggle goods out of the United States and failure to submit export information, as well as smuggling goods out of the United States and providing illegal export information. Court documents say he shipped 20 ballistic vests to Haiti, but the items shipped are described as “medical X-ray vests and school supplies.”
If convicted, Solages, Vincent and Rivera face life in prison. Sanon, who his associates have suggested was duped by the real and as-yet-unidentified masterminds behind the murder, faces up to 20 years if convicted.
A total of seven suspects in the case are now in US custody facing charges of involvement in the assassination of the Haitian leader in South Florida. Among them are Rivera and Mario Palacios, two of nearly two dozen former Colombian soldiers charged in the case.
Other suspects already in US custody include Rodolphe Jarr, a former US government informant and Haitian businessman who was extradited from the Dominican Republic, where he was arrested in January 2022.
The same month also saw the arrest of Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian soldier deported from Jamaica after fleeing Haiti. He was arrested by US authorities in Panama on his way to Colombia.
In January 2022, authorities announced that former Haitian Sen. John arrested Joel Joseph, who fled to Jamaica.
In Haiti, the case has virtually stalled amid death threats that have shaken local judges.
According to court documents, two months before Moise was killed, Vincent texted Solages a video of the cat “vigilantly reacting” to a gunshot. Solages laughed, prompting Vincent to respond: “Jovenel is pretty much the way to be, but (soon) if you’re really ready!. Solages then responded, “(This) cat is never coming back,” and added, “Trust me bro, we’ll definitely make our final decision,” the documents said.
Then, in June, about 20 former Colombian soldiers were recruited to help arrest the president and protect Sanon, who envisioned himself as Haiti’s new leader. Rivera was in charge of that group, according to documents that are part of the case in South Florida.
The plan was to arrest Moise and whisk him off to an unknown location by plane, but that plan failed when the suspects could not find the plane or enough weapons, officials said.
A day before the killing, Solages falsely told other suspects it was a CIA operation and the mission was to kill the president, according to the documents. Shortly before the assassination, officials said, Solages yelled that it was a DEA operation to ensure compliance from the president’s security detail.
Nearly a year after the killings, US officials say Solages, Vincent and Rivera interviewed them while they were in custody in Haiti and that they agreed to talk.
Associated Press writer Danica Coto in San Juan contributed to this report.