MIAMI — Four key suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s president made their first appearance in US federal court on Wednesday to face charges that they conspired and participated 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 Colombian citizen German Rivera Garcia appeared calm as they entered a federal court in Miami, wearing beige prison uniforms with shackled hands and ankles.
They did not speak during the hearing except to request a public defender, when Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes asked each of them if they could afford to pay an attorney.
“I would appreciate it if the court would appoint counsel,” said Solages, the second of the defendants called by the judge to hear the charges. He, like each of them, answered “no” when the judge asked if they had a job, savings or property.
The judge appointed a different attorney for each of them.
Solages, 37, Vincent, 57, and Rivera, 44, were among the first arrested after Jovenel Moïse was shot 12 times at his private home near the capital Port-au-Prince on July 7, 2021. All three are charged with conspiracy for committing murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support and resources leading to death.
Sanon, 54, a pastor, doctor and failed businessman, is charged with conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States and fail to provide export information, as well as smuggling goods from the United States and providing illegal export information. Court documents state that he claimed to have sent 20 ballistic vests to Haiti, but the items sent were described as “medical X-ray vests and school supplies.”
If convicted, Solages, Vincent and Rivera face up to life in prison. Sanon, whose associates believe he was duped by the real and as-yet-unidentified masterminds behind the murder, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
During the hearing, which lasted about half an hour, prosecutors asked that the four remain in custody in a federal prison, arguing that they are a risk of fleeing the country. The judge scheduled a bond hearing for Monday and an arraignment for February 15.
A total of seven suspects in the case are now in US custody facing charges in South Florida for their alleged involvement in the killing of the Haitian leader. They include Rivera and Mario Palacios, two of nearly two dozen former Colombian soldiers charged in the case.
The other suspects already in US custody are Rodolphe Jaar, a former US government informant and Haitian businessman who was extradited from the Dominican Republic, where he was detained in January 2022.
Also arrested that month was Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian soldier deported from Jamaica after fleeing there from Haiti. He was detained by US officials in Panama during a layover en route to Colombia.
In January 2022, authorities arrested former Haitian senator John Joel Joseph, who had also fled to Jamaica.
In Haiti, the case is at a standstill amid death threats that have frightened local judges.
According to court documents, two months before Moise was killed, Vincent texted Solages a video of a cat “reacting alertly” to the sound of a gunshot. Solages laughed, prompting Vincent to reply, “That’s the way Jovenel will be almost, but (sooner) if you guys are really ready!. Solages then replied that “(that) cat is never coming back” and “trust me brother, we are definitely making our final decision,” the documents state.
Later, in June, about 20 ex-Colombian soldiers were recruited to help arrest the president and protect Sanon, who was posing as Haiti’s new leader. Rivera was in charge of that group, according to documents that are part of the South Florida case.
Authorities said the plan was to detain Moïse and take him to an unidentified location by plane, but that plot failed when the suspects could not find a plane or enough weapons.
A day before the assassination, Solages falsely told other suspects that it was a CIA operation and that the mission was to kill the president, according to the documents. Shortly before the assassination, authorities said, Solages called out what was allegedly a DEA operation to ensure compliance by the president’s security.
About a year after the murder, U.S. authorities say they interviewed Solages, Vincent and Rivera while they were in custody in Haiti and that they agreed to talk.
Associated Press writer Danica Cotto in San Juan contributed to this report.