A Mexican national was held without bail Wednesday for an alleged murder on the high seas off the coast of Nantucket, and the Coast Guard released chilling audio of the mayday call from the suspect’s captain, who told authorities the defendant had “gone crazy here on the boat.”
Franklin Freddy Meave Vazquez, 27, shuffled into court handcuffed and wearing maroon jail garb and flip-flops with socks. He also had bandages on his arm and forehead.
He did not enter a plea to charges of killing one crew member, identified in court papers as J.S., and trying to murder a second shipmate, listed as R.H., during a frenzied knife and hammer attack on board the Virginia-based Captain Billy Haver vessel Sunday afternoon.
The mayhem unfolded in water some 55 miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
Vazquez, who’s been living in the United States illegally and who was freed from ICE custody by an immigration judge in April, could face the death penalty if convicted of killing J.S., as well as a maximum 20-year prison term if found guilty of trying to murder R.H.
Stylianus Sinnis, Vazquez’s public defender, declined to comment after the hearing.
Also Wednesday, the US Coast Guard released the audio of the desperate mayday call for help that the Billy Haver’s captain put out Sunday afternoon following the ambush.
“Can anybody hear me?” the captain asked repeatedly before saying over the radio, “We have a man gone crazy here on the boat, man. . . . One of the crew members went crazy. He started hitting people in the head with a hammer. I got three men that’s injured right now. One, I can’t wake him up. I don’t know if he’s dead or not.”
The description of an unhinged Vazquez wreaking havoc on the boat was a far cry from the thinly built suspect who sat impassively in court Wednesday and quietly answered yes when a magistrate judge asked, in English, whether he understood his rights.
Assistant US Attorney Christine J. Wichers did not detail the allegations but asked that Vazquez be held pending trial, describing him as a danger to the community and a flight risk.
Sinnis agreed to have his client detained pending a probable cause hearing tentatively scheduled for Tuesday of next week. A hearing on procedural matters is slated for Thursday at 2 p.m.
Wichers said Vazquez will ultimately be charged with either first-degree murder, which carries a possible death sentence, or second-degree murder, which carries a maximum life term, for the slaying of J.S.
A federal affidavit described a disturbing series of attacks aboard the vessel. It said a crew member identified as R.H. heard yelling from the deck and ran around the corner, where he received three strikes to the back of his head.
“R.H. fell on the deck,” the filing said. “He saw that he was covered in blood. He looked up and saw Vazquez with a hammer in one hand and a knife in the other hand. Vazquez looked at R.H. and said, ‘Just stay there.’ ”
Then, records show, R.H. spotted another crew member, identified as J.S., lying a few feet away with blood coming out of his mouth.
Meanwhile, the nightmarish eruption of violence continued.
“R.H. heard other crewmembers down below in the ice hold,” the affidavit said. “One crewmember, J.Z., emerged from the hold. R.H. saw Vazquez hit J.Z. with a hammer. According to the captain of the vessel, Vazquez climbed up the mast as other crewmembers tried to capture Vazquez, holding a hammer and a knife as he did so. Vazquez then threw the knife onto the deck.”
The captain put out a distress call to the Coast Guard around 2:30 p.m., the filing said, and the German cruise ship Mein Schiff 6 pulled up alongside the fishing vessel and took J.S. and R.H. on board.
A cruise ship doctor pronounced J.S. dead soon afterward.
“J.S. had a visible wound to the head and stab wounds to the torso,” the affidavit said.
Prior to the weekend slaying, Vazquez had been charged with abducting and trying to strangle his 20-year-old wife in March in Newport News, Va.
An incident report in that case said the woman told police her husband attempted to strangle her, and the woman’s father previously told the Globe she lost consciousness during the incident.
“After getting free she attempted to call a family member for help, but the suspect . . . took her phone and refused to let her leave,” the report said. “The victim began screaming after Mr. Vasquez repeatedly pushed her and only stopped when she agreed to stop screaming.”
The woman tried to call 911, according to the report, but Vazquez prevented her. “She was eventually able to make contact with a family member who came and picked her up.”
She sustained non-life-threatening injuries, police said. Vazquez was charged with multiple counts in Virginia including abduction by force, intimidation or deception, and assault on a family member, police said.
In a statement Tuesday, ICE said the Virginia case remains pending. The agency also addressed the circumstances surrounding Vazquez’s release from ICE custody in April.
The ICE statement said Vazquez “is a Mexican national illegally present in the U.S. ICE encountered [Vazquez] at the Norfolk City Jail in Virginia through its Criminal Alien Program in March 2018 after he was arrested by the Newport News Police Department” for the alleged domestic assault. “He entered ICE custody upon release from the jail.”
Despite ICE’s objections, the agency said, “an immigration judge granted [Vazquez] bond. ICE had to release him from custody April 27 after he posted bond.”
ICE added that Vazquez’s immigration case “remains in proceedings before an immigration judge. ICE is closely monitoring his case to determine next steps to ensure he no longer poses a public safety threat.”