MIAMI — Chief suspects in the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti made their first appearances in a federal courtroom in Miami on Wednesday, agreeing to detention as the government accused the men of a sprawling conspiracy to seize power.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department charged four men in connection with the assassination and detailed a scheme that prosecutors said involved a yet unnamed former Supreme Court judge in the country, Colombian mercenaries and an illegal arms shipment from the United States.
Three of the men are accused of conspiracy in the killing of Mr. Moïse: James Solages, 37, and Joseph Vincent, 57, both of whom are dual Haitian American citizens, and Germán Alejandro Rivera García, 44, a Colombian accused of leading the group of mercenaries operating in Haiti. The fourth, Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 65, also a dual Haitian American citizen, was charged with counts related to smuggling.
The suspects told Magistrate Judge Alicia M. Otazo Reyes of the Southern District of Florida on Wednesday that they were destitute and in need of counsel, prompting her to assign a lawyer to each. Prosecutors said all four men, who appeared in court in tan jumpsuits and surgical masks, were a flight risk.
If convicted, Mr. Solages, Mr. Vincent and Mr. Rivera face up to life in prison. Dr. Sanon faces up to 20 years.
Understand the Assassination of Haiti’s President
President Jovenel Moïse was killed on July 7, 2021, in an attack at his private residence on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
- What Happened: Before his murder, Mr. Moïse took a number of steps to fight drug and arms smugglers. Some officials fear he was killed for it.
- The Attack: Martine Moïse, the president’s widow who was struck by gunfire during the attack, recounted the nighttime raid.
- The Aftermath: Haiti, which has struggled with a legacy of corruption, violence and political paralysis, plunged into further crisis after the killing.
- Murder Investigation: The United States, which assumed a leading role in investigating the death, and has charged a former Colombian commando, a Haitian businessman and five other men with the assassination.
On July 7, 2021, a group of assailants stormed Mr. Moïse’s residence near Port-au-Prince early in the morning, shooting him 12 times and wounding his wife. Since then, Haiti has descended into chaos, with roving gangs carrying out violence and government institutions in disarray. The case in Haiti has ground to a halt, with yet another judge in the case assigned after others had resigned or been dismissed.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Solages and Dr. Sanon met in April 2021 in South Florida to discuss “regime change in Haiti” as well as backing Dr. Sanon, a pastor, doctor and aspiring Haitian political candidate. The next month, prosecutors said, Dr. Sanon contracted equipment needed to support his own military force in Haiti, including 20 Colombian citizens.
Mr. Rivera is accused of leading the Colombian group.
The purported plot against Mr. Moïse evolved over time: from an audacious plan to kidnap the Haitian president and escape the country via airplane to the assassination that was ultimately carried out, according to a court filing.
On July 6, 2021, the day before Mr. Moïse was killed, Mr. Solages, Mr. Vincent and Mr. Rivera met with other conspirators in a house close to Mr. Moïse’s residence, the filing said. Firearms and other equipment were distributed, and Mr. Solages announced that their mission was a “C.I.A. operation” to kill the Haitian president.
The assassins drove in a convoy to Mr. Moïse’s residence the next day, falsely claiming that they were American law enforcement to ensure compliance as they stormed the residence.
Three others also have been charged in the U.S. in connection with Moïse’s death: a government informant and Haitian businessman, Rodolphe Jaar, 49; a former Colombian soldier, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios; and a former senator of Haiti, John Joël Joseph.
Prosecutors in court on Wednesday said all seven men will be tried under the same case.
Three of the lawyers declined to address the allegations, with one saying he knew only of the case from reading the newspaper.
Another, Ken Swartz, who represents Mr. Vincent, said, “The charges are serious and we want to know what evidence that the government has.”
The men are set for arraignment on Feb. 15, when they will enter pleas.