Three sentences overturned, Cuban 5 convictions upheld by appellate court
Posted by raleighfist on June 16, 2008
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdicts of guilt against each of the five Cuban heroes on June 4. This was the second round of appeals for the Five, all of whom have been in prison for almost a decade for trying to prevent U.S.-backed terrorist organizations in Miami from engaging in violent attacks on Cuba.
WW photo: John Catalinotto
In a 99-page opinion, the court held in its majority decision, written by Judge William Pryor, that the 1998 trial of the Five in Miami was lawful and fair, despite the lack of evidence in the prosecution’s case, the numerous flawed procedural and evidentiary rulings by the trial judge, and the shocking examples of gross prosecutorial misconduct referenced in the panel’s decision. One judge, Phyllis Kravitch, issued a dissenting opinion in which she found that the conviction of Gerardo Hernández for conspiracy to commit murder should be overturned because the prosecutor’s evidence was insufficient to prove the charge. But the third judge, Stanley Birch, while referring to this decision as a “very close case,” nevertheless voted with Judge Pryor to uphold all of the convictions.
Judge Pryor—who was appointed by the current Bush administration and failed to win Senate confirmation at first because of his reputation as a right-wing zealot with little regard for the Constitution—was the only judge on the panel who did not hear the Five’s original appeal. In his opinion, Pryor noted several examples of egregious prosecutorial misconduct in the presence of the jury during the original trial. For example, Pryor admitted that the prosecutor stated in his closing argument that the Five were “bent on destroying the United States” and that they were trying to execute what the prosecutor called “the final solution” against the anti-Cuba forces in Miami. Pryor determined that these and several other statements could have had only “minor” effect on the jury and that there was no cause for a new trial.
Although the convictions were upheld, the sentences of Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero were overturned. The three now face a new sentencing hearing in Miami before the original trial judge in the case, Judge Joan Lenard. In 1998, Lenard gave each of the Five extremely long sentences, including life terms for three of them.
The decision is a setback for the Five and their supporters in Cuba, the U.S. and around the world. After being tried in Miami under a constant barrage of anti-Cuba hostility from the local media and right-wing organizations, many international and national organizations have noted that the trial of the Five was extremely unfair. The executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, Heidi Boghosian, said in a statement, “Anti-Cuba sentiment has tainted all possibility of a fair trial for the Five since their original arrest and confinement, which the U.N. Rapporteur on Torture described as violating the Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” Boghosian noted: “During the original trial, the Bush administration paid journalists to write unfavorable stories about Cuba. Anti-Cuban extremists tried to intimidate the jurors, and even prospective jurors admitted that they would be afraid to return not-guilty verdicts against the Five.”
News of the decision caused swift reaction around the world from supporters of the Five. Demonstrations were held in New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles and in many other U.S. cities in the days following the decision. Other demonstrations have since taken place in many countries in Europe and Latin America.
According to one of the lawyers for the Five, Leonard Weinglass, the next legal step is to submit a motion to reargue the appeal before the same three-judge panel. That motion will be submitted later this month. After that, the attorneys still have the option of requesting that the case be heard by all of the judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, or appealing directly to the Supreme Court of the U.S. The resentencing hearing for Labañino, González and Guerrero should be scheduled within the next few months.
In the meantime, the movement in support of the Five is growing inside and outside of the U.S. New York solidarity organizations are planning a conference in support of the Five at Hostos College in the Bronx on June 14th, and many activities are being planned around the country for September and October to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of the arrest of the Five. The millions of supporters of the Five remained determined to win their freedom.