Joe Cool Crew

Sentencing Of Archer


Kirby Archer sentenced to life in 'Joe Cool' boat slayings


Last Update: 10/14/08


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MIAMI (AP) -- Kirby Archer sat stone-faced Tuesday while listening to the families of the four people he killed aboard a fishing boat describe how the slayings ruined their lives.


"Our hell is on earth and it began with you," sobbed Amy Gamble, the half-sister of the boat's captain, Jake Branam and sister of Scott Gamble.


When the relatives finished their anguished testimony, a judge sentenced Archer to five consecutive life terms. The 36-year-old pleaded guilty in July to first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, conspiracy and hijacking the 'Joe Cool' yacht in September 2007 after it left Miami for the Bahamas. Archer was sentenced to one life sentence for each count of murder and a fifth for the conspiracy count.


He stood up and addressed his victims' families.


"For the family, I wish that, um, I wish I could take back what happened," he said slowly. "I wish I could show a little more emotion. But I'm not built that way."


Guillermo Zarabozo, a second man accused in the slayings, was convicted last month on lesser firearms charges and could face life in prison. A mistrial was declared on 12 other charges, which included kidnapping and first-degree murder with a second trial set for next year.


The story began in January 2007 in Batesville, Ark., when Archer -- who was under investigation on child molestation charges there -- stole $94,000 from the Wal-Mart where he worked and made a beeline to Florida. He hid out for months and by September, had befriended Zarabozo, an 18-year-old Cuban-American, prosecutors said.


Archer and Zarabozo booked the 47-foot "Joe Cool," at the Miami Beach Marina for a phony trip to Bimini, Bahamas, but intended all along to hijack it to Cuba, prosecutors say. The two men paid $4,000 in cash to go to Bimini.


The boat was owned by 27-year-old Jake Branam. His half brother, Scott Gamble, and a buddy, Sammy Kairy, worked as crew members.


On Sept. 22, Branam's wife, 30-year-old Kelley, dropped off the couple's children -- then six months and 2 years old -- at their great-grandparents' house so she could go on the trip.


A day later, when the boat and crew were overdue, Coast Guard officials found an empty Joe Cool floating in the azure waters some 30 miles from Cuba. Officials found Archer and Zarabozo a few miles away in the yacht's life raft.


They initially told rescuers a tale about being attacked by Cuban pirates who killed the four aboard, but both later admitted it was a lie.


Prosecutors said Archer killed Branam and his wife on the upper decks while Zarabozo shot the two crew members in the cabin. Authorities say their bodies were dumped overboard. Zarabozo at his trial denied killing anyone. Phone and e-mail messages to his attorneys Tuesday for a comment on the sentencing and how it might affect Zarabozo were not immediately returned.


Relatives say they don't have closure, in large part because the bodies were never found.


"The only grave we have is the ocean," said Amy Gamble.


In the months following the killings, an expensive and often contentious custody battle over the Branams' young son and daughter dragged on in family court. Kelley's sister is now caring for the children. Taylor, who is now 3, pretends to phone her mother and ask, "Mommy, when are you coming home?"


No one was surprised, including Archer, that Judge Paul Huck would sentence him to life behind bars.

        "There's nothing I can say to fix it or take it back," said Archer, who has grown pale and puffy in prison. "I deserve to sit in jail the rest of          my life. I deserve the death penalty, no question about that."


His plea deal precluded him from being executed.


Archer admitted the four aboard didn't deserve to die.


"These people were good people," he said. "They didn't do any wrong to me."



Copyright 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.





Man Gets 5 Life Sentences In 'Joe Cool' Killings


POSTED: Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The second man convicted of killing four people aboard a charter boat at sea learned his fate on Wednesday.


A jury convicted Guillermo Zarabozo of kidnapping and murder, among other charges, in connection with the killings of four people aboard the "Joe Cool" charter boat in September 2007.


The former Hialeah security guard was 19 years old when he and Arkansas fugitive Kirby Archer chartered the Joe Cool off Miami Beach for a purported trip to Bimini. Instead, prosecutors said, they hijacked the boat and killed the crewmembers, including Capt. Jake Branam, his wife, Kelly, crew member Scott Campbell and Capt. Samuel Kairy.


Zarabozo maintained his innocence until the end, saying that Archer, who already is serving a life sentence for the crime, was the only killer and duped him into the trip and the killings.

"I'm really sorry for the loss of your family members," Zarabozo said in court. "But I had nothing to do with it. When I got on that boat, I didn't know what Archer was going to do. I'm a victim of Archer, too."


Family and friends packed the courtroom on Wednesday morning. Zarabozo himself addressed the judge during his sentencing hearing, joining a roster of people who spoke. But the judge said Zarabozo's story was all lies and sentenced him to five life sentences for the murders and conspiracy plus 85 more years for a dozen other charges.


Zarabozo and his father, who also addressed the court, did not show remorse, and family members of the victims showed a lack of forgiveness, as well.


"I hope you live a long life and suffer," a relative of Branam told Zarabozo at the hearing.

Outside the courthouse, family members reacted to the sentencing.


"He's going to be in a jail cell for the rest of his life. He's going to leave jail in a wooden box," said Jonathon Branam, a cousin of two of the victims. "While I get to enjoy freedom the rest of my life, I'm going to think about that. I think I'd rather be dead than be in a cell my whole life."


"If any good has come out of this, I think we've gotten a soon-to-be hardened criminal off the streets," said Joe Branam Sr., the victim's grandfather.


"I basically just wanted him to understand or try to grasp on how much pain he's put so many people through. I just don't think he's capable of understanding that," said Amie Gamble, sister-in-law to Kelly one of the victims, and sister to two others jake and Scott.

Archer also is serving five consecutive life sentences. He pleaded guilty and said he and Zarabozo each killed two crew members.