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Court has thin evidence against men accused of killing boat crew

Defense considered evidence as "thin" against two men accused of murdering four people at sea aboard a fishing charter boat bound for the Bahamas.

"It's a very difficult case," said Allan Kaiser, attorney for Kirby Logan Archer. "You have no physical evidence, really, linking my client to anything. You have no motive."

Kaiser spoke after Archer, 35, and 20-year-old Guillermo Zarabozo appeared at a brief hearing on the murder charges filed Wednesday. The previous charges used to keep them in custody - being a fugitive from an Arkansas theft and lying to a federal agent, respectively - were dismissed.

An arraignment on the murder charges was scheduled for Oct. 25, with a bail hearing set for next Wednesday. Both men are currently jailed without bail, and prosecutors have 10 business days to obtain a murder indictment from a federal grand jury.

Archer and Zarabozo paid $4,000 (2,000 EUR) in cash for the "Joe Cool" to take them to Bimini, Bahamas on Sept. 22. The boat was reported missing Sept. 23, and the two men were later found on its life raft not far from the abandoned and drifting vessel. No one was aboard.

The two men claim they were attacked at sea by Cuban pirates who fatally shot the boat's captain, wife and two crew members and ordered their bodies thrown in the ocean. These pirates, the men said, spared them and left aboard another vessel after the "Joe Cool" charter boat ran out of fuel en route to Cuba.

Missing and presumed dead are the captain, Jake Branam; his wife, Kelley Branam; and crew members Scott Gamble and Samuel Kairy. The Branams left behind two small children.

Outside the downtown federal courthouse, Kaiser noted that there were no witnesses to the alleged crime, no murder weapon has been found and the four victims remain missing at sea and presumed dead.

A criminal complaint against Archer and Zarabozo relies mainly on circumstantial evidence - such as 9mm bullets found at Zarabozo's Hialeah home that match shell casings found on the boat - and inconsistencies in statements they have made to investigators.

"In the complaint I see very thin evidence," Kaiser said. "We're going forward to vigorously defend this case."

Zarabozo attorney Faith Mesnekoff declined comment to reporters, but during the hearing she asked that the 47-foot (14-meter) "Joe Cool" charter boat be kept in federal custody to allow time for defense investigators to examine it. The boat had been returned last week to its owners, but on Thursday was brought back to the Miami Coast Guard station.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Banstra ordered that the boat remain there until at least Oct. 25.

Archer, of Strawberry, Arkansas, is also accused in Arkansas of stealing more than $92,000 (64,800 EUR) in January from a Wal-Mart where he was a manager. The alleged theft occurred after Archer was confronted with allegations of child molestation, according to court documents.

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