Man Convicted of Four Drowning Deaths in Haitian Smugglings
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A boat captain who smuggled Haitians into the United States was convicted in the drowning deaths of four refugees for ordering them to jump overboard.
A federal grand jury found Richard Bennett Barker guilty Thursday of four counts of negligent homicide, three counts of alien smuggling and one count of conspiracy to smuggle aliens.
″This sends a powerful message to those involved in alien smuggling and also serves as a tragic reminder of the terrible risk people face when they attempt to be illegally smuggled into this country,″ said Kendall Coffey, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Barker, 43, who was nicknamed ″Captain Jump Off,″ is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 25. Barker, from Boynton Beach, could get up to 58 years in prison and be fined up to $2 million.
Four Haitians, including two children, died Feb. 7 after they were ordered off Barker’s 31-foot boat near Hutchinson Island. The boat had picked up 27 Haitians in the Bahamas.
Authorities found the bodies of Ermantine Joseph, 42, and Rene Chauvette, 28, floating in the waters. The bodies of Kenol Louis, 6, and Justin Jean- Baptiste, 7, washed ashore.
Jury foreman Moises Morales said jurors relied heavily on the testimony of two Haitian men who were among the other 23 other refugees on the boat. The group had been caught by U.S. Border Patrol agents and police before being released to church organizations to help resettle in Florida.
In 1993, 1,087 Haitians landed illegally along Florida’s coastline, according to Border Patrol records. So far this year, more than 1,800 Haitians have landed illegally, said Mike Sheehy, an assistant chief patrol agent.