Cuban spies jailed in U.S. appeal for new trial
by Matthew Bigg
August 20, 2007
Reprinted from Reuters
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Five Cubans serving long U.S. prison sentences for spying and conspiracy to commit murder appealed their convictions on Monday to press for a new trial.
FBI agents arrested the men in 1998 and they were convicted in 2001 of 26 counts of spying on the Cuban exile community in Miami on behalf of Fidel Castro's government.
Prosecutors also accused the men of trying to infiltrate U.S. military installations to obtain secrets.
Lawyers for the five, who were not present in court, said they deserved a fresh trial because the prosecution made statements in closing arguments in 2001 that violated court rules and because the sentences were harsher than the crimes deserved.
"The court should find that the defendants were prejudiced (by what the prosecution said) and the court should grant a new trial," defense attorney Richard Klugh told a federal courtroom in Atlanta packed with both supporters of the men and opponents of the Castro government.
The "Cuban Five" are celebrated at home as national heroes victimized by Washington as part of its diplomatic campaign against the island's government since Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.
But to many members of the Cuban exile community they were justly convicted and Havana's support for the men is seen as an example of Cuba's pursuit of its own anti-U.S. agenda.
Government lawyers refuted a defense argument that its case was "over-hyperbolic" and said there was no misconduct by the prosecution at the 2001 trial.
"This was a soberly tried case. It was squarely based on evidence ... The government did not exploit red-baiting in this case," government lawyer Caroline Heck Miller told the court.
She was referring to claims by the defense that prosecutors unfairly characterized conviction of the men as of national importance because they represented a communist government opposed to the United States.
One of the men, Gerardo Hernandez, was also indicted for conspiracy to commit murder based on the allegation he passed information to Havana that led to the downing in 1996 by a Cuban MiG jet of two small planes operated by a Miami-based Cuban exile group and flying near Cuba. Four people were killed.
Hernandez was sentenced to two life terms, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino got life, Fernando Gonzalez received 19 years in jail and Rene Gonzalez got 15 years.
Hernandez says he was spying on paramilitary exile groups in Miami, not on the United States itself, when he and four members of his so-called Wasp Network were arrested.
The mission was to prevent "terrorist" attacks on Cuba, according to Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general who was present in support of the men.
"There is an injustice in this case ... The theory that the government used (to prosecute Hernandez) is a classic pile of inference upon inference upon inference," said Klugh.
The three judges at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta may take weeks or longer to make a ruling in the case, supporters of the men said.