Man charged in fishing trip slaying was accused of domestic abuse, immigration violation

A York County-based fishing boat — the Captain Billy Haver — was 55 miles off the coast of Massachusetts a few weeks ago, dredging scallops from the sea.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, a crew member started attacking his shipmates with a hammer.

It was 2 p.m. when the vessel’s captain radioed the Coast Guard for help on an international emergency distress channel.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” he said in a thick accent. “Can anybody hear me?”

“We have a man gone crazy here on the boat, man,” the captain continued after hearing a reply. “One man, I don’t know if he’s dead or what. But one of the crew members went crazy, and he started hitting people in the head with a hammer. I got three men that’s injured now. One I can’t wake him up.”

It wasn’t clear what spurred the Sept. 23 attack.

One crew member later told investigators he heard yelling, rounded a corner, was struck three times in the back of the head and fell. He looked up from the deck, he said, and saw a fellow crew member, Franklin “Freddy” Meave Vazquez Jr., 27, of Newport News, holding a knife in one hand and a hammer in the other.

The boat’s chief mate, Javier Rangel Sosa, 54, of Newport News, lay on the deck nearby, blood rushing from his mouth.

Crew members cornered Meave as he climbed the boat’s mast with the hammer and knife, before throwing the knife on the deck, according to court documents.

“He already cut the antenna or something off,” the captain relayed over the radio. That could have been the cause of an initial inability by the captain to hear the Coast Guard’s responses early in the tense distress call.

A nearby German cruise ship, the Mein Schiff 6, got to the scallop boat first.

Sosa — one of the boat’s most experienced and well-liked crew members — was taken lifeless from the vessel he had sailed on countless times, having sustained stab wounds and head injuries.

A cruise ship doctor pronounced him dead.

Meave, 27 — a Mexican national who has lived in the United States for 17 years and in Newport News for 10 — was arrested by the Coast Guard.

He’s charged with murdering Sosa and attempting to murder another man “on the high seas ... within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” according to an affidavit by a Coast Guard special agent filed in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Things could have turned out very differently.

In March, Meave was charged with two felonies in a Newport News domestic violence case that carried the potential for significant prison time. And in April — while the domestic case was pending — federal immigration officials determined that Meave was in the country illegally and took him into custody.

But neither of those roadblocks proved enough to stop Meave from boarding the fishing boat as it headed out from its dock in the Seaford section of York County. It left in mid-September with a crew of seven to catch scallops off New England.

The first arrest

Newport News police responded to a domestic abuse complaint from Meave’s wife on March 8.

The 20-year-old said she returned from a girls’ night out at about 12:30 a.m. to the home on Edsyl Street in Menchville, where the couple lived with Meave’s parents.

She said she and Meave were in bed talking about their relationship problems when he snapped. “I want you to see reality,” she said he told her, before he suddenly climbed on top of her “and began to strangle her with both hands,” according to a criminal complaint.

The woman told police she couldn’t breathe, and “believed she blacked out momentarily,” before she scratched Meave, causing him to stop choking her. She tried to call her mother, she said, but Meave grabbed both her cell phones and “repeatedly pushed her onto the bed.”

She said he then “wrapped a black and red scarf around her head” to get her to stop yelling, while keeping her pinned. He finally got off her, she said, when she bit him in the chest and promised not to leave the home.

When she began walking downstairs, she said, Meave grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back upstairs. She told police she tried to call 911 using a voice-activated feature on her iPhone, but it didn’t work. Then Meave climbed back atop her and laughed, she said. “Do you hear a voice?” he asked. “Do you see the devil?”

She finally managed to wrest a phone away and texted a friend. She said Meave warned her he “made a lot of money as a scallop fisherman” and could hire someone to kill her and her family.

But he eventually gave her phone back and allowed her to leave, with her friend picking her up down the street, she said.

Later that day, Newport News police charged Meave with two felonies — strangulation and abduction — and misdemeanor assault and battery. Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Ronald E. Bensten denied Meave bond as he awaited his future court dates, with a protective order also issued.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy S. Fisher overruled the bond decision on March 30, granting Meave’s release under a pretrial program.

Granted freedom

But Meave wasn’t immediately freed.

On April 2, the Newport News City Jail transferred him to federal custody. The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had determined that the Mexican national was in the U.S. illegally, and put a “detainer” on him at the City Jail.

For a few weeks, Meave was held in a detention center in Farmville, west of Richmond. But despite the pending felony charges, an immigration judge granted him bond during an April 25 hearing in Arlington. He was released two days later.

ICE said in a statement that the judge made the decision “despite ICE’s objections.”

Immigration judges are not part of the federal judiciary. They’re employees of the U.S. Justice Department, which declined to release details of Meave’s case, including the amount of the bond and the judge’s name.

But Lindsay and Shelby McDannold, the parents of Meave’s ex-wife, told the Daily Press the judge was Roxanne C. Hladylowycz, who set bond at $20,000.

According to DOJ policy, immigration judges should be guided by “whether the alien’s release would pose a danger to property or persons, whether the alien is likely to appear for further immigration proceedings, and whether the alien is a threat to national security.”

The Daily Press filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request last week for more information about the case, but has not yet received a response.

“I was quite surprised when I found out they had released him,” said Robin Farkas, the prosecutor in the Newport News domestic abuse case. “I don’t know that we’ve had a case before where ICE had someone, and he was released. It’s just not normal, especially in this environment.”

By the time Meave came to court for the Newport News case a few weeks later, his wife had told prosecutors she would not testify against him. She said before the May 15 hearing that she wanted Meave to get mental health and substance abuse treatment instead of being jailed, Farkas said.

The prosecutor said Meave’s wife also knew a conviction could lead to his removal from the country.

“She didn’t want to do anything that would hold him or get him deported,” Farkas said. “That’s something we battle in a lot of cases. They don’t want to be abused, but also don’t want (deportation) to happen to the people they love.”

Meave’s mother-in-law, Lindsay McDannold, 39, of Richmond, said he was addicted to heroin. She said Meave’s relatives begged her daughter not to testify against him, saying that if he went back to Mexico, “He was going to be murdered by the cartels.”

“It was a huge sob story,” McDannold said. “She felt bad. She didn’t want to be responsible for that. She tries to see the good in people.”

Without the wife’s testimony, Farkas said, there was no way to move forward with the prosecution.

She and Meave’s lawyer, Cathy Krinick, worked out a plea deal.

The two felonies were dropped, while Meave admitted to the misdemeanor assault and agreed to enter a domestic violence prevention program. But he got a “deferred disposition,” meaning there would be no conviction on his record if he stayed out of trouble for two years.

Sosa’s last trip

The Captain Billy Haver — an 83-foot fishing boat — docks at the Seaford Scallop Co., off Back Creek in York County, on the mouth of the York River.

Built in 1996, the vessel is named after a fishing captain who drowned after going down with his boat 50 miles off Norfolk 18 years ago.

Officials with Seaford Scallop declined to comment on the Sept. 23 slaying, but said they don’t own the Captain Billy Haver. It’s one of 14 independently owned vessels whose catch they buy.

Juan Araiza, of Virginia Beach, the president of the company that owns the boat, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The victim’s son, Javier Sosa Jr., 33, said the vessel left the Seaford dock about Sept. 18, headed for the New England coast. He said the elder Sosa was chief mate for the trip, and had been at the wheel just before the attack, southeast of Massachusetts’ Nantucket Island.

Another crew member told the family that Meave snapped while the fishermen were performing a mundane task: moving dredged scallops from the deck to a freezer called the “ice hold.”

Javier Sosa Jr. said his brother knew Meave at Newport News’ Warwick High School. The elder Sosa had told his family that Meave “caused trouble” on prior trips and that he wasn’t getting along wither other crewmates.

But Sosa Jr. said good local scallopers are hard to come by these days, with many having moved to find work in New England.

Javier Rangel Sosa lived with his wife, Graciela, in a well-kept mobile home on Onancock Trail. That’s off Jefferson Avenue in Denbigh, south of the Newport News airport.

He grew up the youngest of 11 children in Mexico and had been on fishing boats since age 12, often sailing from Texas, his son said. He was a boat captain by 16.

Sosa’s son said he moved to Virginia decades ago and became a U.S. citizen about 10 years ago. He and his wife raised their sons here: Javier Jr., now a fisherman in New Bedford, Mass.; and Jonathan, who works at a Texas car dealership.

The couple planned to retire in a few years to Mexico, where Sosa owned a house and a laundry business.

He loved his small dog, Pepe, and was “a people person,” Javier Sosa Jr. said. “He tried to make people smile. If he went up to the cash register, he would try to make (the cashier) laugh and smile. … If he sees someone, he would talk, he would say hi. I wish I had that trait.”

An official at Seafood Scallop who has known Sosa for 25 years described him as hard-working and well-liked on the company’s docks. “He’s a real good man, a really good family man,” he said.

The victim’s nephew, 27-year-old Jesus Sosa — who lives in Mexico but stayed with the Sosas in Newport News for six months this year — said his uncle’s place in the family is legendary.

“He’s the greatest fisherman in Virginia, for real,” Jesus Sosa said. “In my family, everybody wants to be just like him. He always helped everybody, was good to everybody. … I’m so proud of him. He showed me everything.”

A neighbor, Ricky Travis, 48, said that during snowstorms, he and Sosa would shovel out parts of the street. During one big hurricane, Travis said, Sosa drove to North Carolina and bought a generator, hooking it up for five neighbors so long as they helped pay for gas.

The front of Sosa’s trailer, near his black late-model Chevy pickup truck, is lined with hundreds of large rocks dredged from the sea. He planted an apple tree near the trailer, and just completed a new wooden door landing. Sosa and Travis would often talk on Sosa’s porch, Sosa always in his favorite chair.

“That was my dude, that was my friend,” Travis said. “If you needed something, he would do what he could do to help you out. That’s the kind of dude he was.”

Shock and regrets

Meave, now locked up in the Boston area, couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. His lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Stylianus Sinnus, did not return a call. A trial date has not yet been set, but Meave faces life in prison on the charges.

A man who answered the door on the family’s home on Edsyl Street identified himself as Meave’s father. “I don’t really know what happened,” he said, before a woman came to the door and told a Daily Press reporter to leave.

A neighbor, Donald Gilman, 23, called Meave “a quiet but good guy,” saying he wouldn’t have expected this “in a million years.”

“He kept to himself, but every time we talked, he was friendly as could be,” Gilman said. “I’m hoping it’s all a huge mistake and it wasn’t him.”

Meave’s wife’s parents, Lindsay and Shelby McDannold, said their daughter met Meave through friends and married him in June 2017. “He was very nice to her at first and made her a lot of promises,” Lindsay McDannold said.

But their daughter regrets not having her husband prosecuted in the domestic abuse case, they said. She thought the possible deportation would be “a wake-up call” for him to change his ways.

“She really didn’t think he was capable of murder until it happened,” McDannold said. “She instead wanted him to do the drug screening and stay out of trouble and reform his life.”

“She deeply regrets dropping the charges, and deeply regrets ever meeting him,” Shelby McDannold added.

The McDannolds say they don’t understand why the immigration judge released Meave on bond.

Aside from the immigration hold and the then-pending felony abuse charges, court paperwork says that Meave had a misdemeanor shoplifting conviction in Hampton in 2015 — reduced in a plea agreement from a felony larceny. He also had pending drug charges in New Jersey and past dropped drug charges in Newport News.

“They knew about the felony charges and the drug charges, and they still let him out,” Lindsay McDannold said. “It could have been my daughter that he did this to. ICE was objecting left, right and center. … But the system failed long before that. There were so many opportunities to stop it.”

“It’s messed up,” Javier Sosa Jr. said.


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