MIAMI (HPD) — A former senator from Haiti pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges related to the assassination of his country’s President Jovenel Moïse more than a year ago.
John Joel Joseph, considered a key suspect in the crime, also requested a jury trial in a brief hearing of less than five minutes in Miami federal court before Judge Alicia Otazo Reyes.
The former Haitian official was extradited from Jamaica to the United States in May to face charges of conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death knowing that such support would be used to prepare or carry out a conspiracy to kill or kidnap.
Since then he has been detained in a federal prison in downtown Miami. If found guilty he could face a life sentence.
In the audience Joseph looked serious, dressed in a beige convict uniform. He was wearing a mask and had his hands handcuffed and shackled around his ankles. His attorney, Brian Kirlew, was the one who told the judge that his client was pleading not guilty.
According to a criminal complaint, Joseph and others, including 20 former Colombian soldiers and several Haitians, participated in a plot to kidnap or kill the Haitian president at his private home on July 7, 2021.
In March, Joseph agreed to be extradited from Jamaica, where he was detained.
According to a Haitian National Police report obtained by The Associated Press in 2021, at least one person identified as Joseph was named as one of the accused leaders of the plot to assassinate Moïse. According to the source cited in that report, Joseph paid cash for the rental of the vehicles used by the suspects and met with them before the murder.
The former senator is one of more than 40 suspects who were arrested in Haiti and the third to be charged in South Florida. The other two are former Colombian soldier Mario Antonio Palacios and Haitian-Chilean businessman Rodolphe Jaar.
Palacios and Jaar have also pleaded not guilty. Both are charged with conspiracy to commit murder or killing outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death.
Like the former Haitian senator, they could face life in prison if found guilty.