[Ppnews] Large International Support Urges Supreme Court to Review Cuban 5
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 6 14:39:31 EST 2009
For Immediate Release
March 6, 2009
Contact: Thomas C. Goldstein, Esq.: 202-674-7594; tgoldstein at akingump.com
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT WORLDWIDE URGING THE U.S.
SUPREME COURT TO REVIEW THE CONVICTIONS OF THE CUBAN FIVE
In a previously unheard of twelve separate
briefs, array of supporters worldwide including
ten Nobel Prize winners who have championed human
rights (including East Timor President Jose
Ramos-Horta and Irish peacemaker Mairead Corrigan
Maguire); the Mexican Senate; and Mary Robinson,
the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
and former President of Ireland today filed
amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs
imploring the U.S. Supreme Court to review the
Miami convictions of five Cuban government
agents, the so-called Cuban Five. Those
participants in the briefs were joined by
hundreds of parliamentarians from the European
Parliament and other parliaments around the
world, including two former Presidents and three
current Vice-Presidents of the European
Parliament, as well as numerous U.S. and foreign
bar associations and human rights organizations.
This is the largest number of amicus briefs ever
to have urged Supreme Court to review a criminal conviction.
This extraordinary support for the Cuban Five's
case arises from widespread concern in the United
States and around the world that their trial was
conducted in an atmosphere tainted by prejudice
against agents of the Cuban government and fear
of retaliation, which amici say prevented the
jury from fairly evaluating the charges against
the Five. Among others, the United Nations Human
Rights Commission has condemned the Miami trial
of the Cuban agents, marking the first and only
time in history that that body has condemned a
U.S. judicial proceeding. Citing a "climate of
bias and prejudice" in Miami, the Commission's
Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions concluded
that the "trial did not take place in the climate
of objectivity and impartiality that is required
to conform to the standards of a fair trial."
The amicus briefs filed today ask the Supreme
Court to review the fairness of trying the Cuban
agents to a Miami jury. "The trial and conviction
of the Cuban 5 is a national embarrassment,"
explained Michael Ratner, President of the Center
for Constitutional Rights, which represented the
Nobelists in filing their amicus brief. "Our
clients, ten Nobel Prize winners, acclaimed for
their efforts to advance human rights, believe
the trial was an international embarrassment as
well. This was a trial that should have never
occurred in Miami. There was no way a jury from
that Miami, with is history of violence and
intimidation against the Cuban government, could
have reached a verdict free from retaliation by the anti-Castro community."
Several of the amicus briefs filed by U.S.
organizations also ask the Supreme Court to
review the prosecution's striking
African-Americans from the jury. The prosecutor
used seven of nine peremptory challenges (where
no explanation need be given to strike a juror)
to strike black jurors. The Court of Appeals
ruled that no inquiry need be made into the
prosecutor's motives because three other black
jurors, a minority on the 12-person jury, were
seated. Amici maintain that this is allows
prosecutors to mask their manipulation of the racial make-up of a jury.
The U.S. government's brief in opposition is
presently due April 6. The Court is likely to
decide whether to grant review before its summer recess in June.
The amicus briefs, along with a complete list of
the amici, will be posted on SCOTUSblog
(www.scotusblog.com) as electronic copies become available today.
Additional background on the case:
The United States indicted the five Cubans in
Miami in 1998. The indictment focused on the
charge that they were unregistered Cuban agents
and had infiltrated various anti-Castro organizations in South Florida.
One of the Five, Gerardo Hernandez, was also
charged with conspiracy to commit murder for
providing information to Havana on flights in
which the anti-Castro group Brothers to the
Rescue would routinely invade Cuba airspace. On
February 24, 1996, two BTTR planes were destroyed
after both Cuban and American officials had
repeatedly warned the Miami-based group to cease
its illegal incursions into Cuban
territory. Cuba maintains that it shot the
planes down in its territory; the U.S. has
maintained that the shoot down occurred a few
miles into international airspace, after the
planes entered and exited Cuban airspace.
The Cuban Five requested that the trial judge
move the trial out of Miami, which is home to a
massive Cuban-American exile community that,
beyond its ordinary hostility towards the Castro
regime, had been whipped into a frenzy of
anti-Castro sentiment by the Elian Gonzales
debacle that took place just as the Cuban Five's
trial got underway. Judge Lenard refused that
request to move the trial to a new venue some
thirty miles away, and a Miami jury convicted
Hernandez and the others of all charges. Judge
Lenard imposed the maximum available sentences on
the Five, including life imprisonment for Hernandez.
On appeal, a three-judge panel of the federal
Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial
because, the court held, a "perfect storm" of
community prejudice and pre-trial publicity,
exacerbated by the federal prosecutor's
inflammatory statements to the jury, deprived
Hernandez and the other Cubans of a fair trial.
The entire Court of Appeals, however, vacated the
panel's decision, finding no error in the
government trying the case to a Miami jury. It
returned the case to a panel to evaluate the remaining issues in the appeal.
In another key ruling, two of the three judges on
the panel refused to reverse the Miami jury's
conviction of Hernandez. Judge Kravitch
dissented, finding that there was no evidence at
all that Hernandez knew there would be a shoot
down, let alone an unlawful shoot down in international airspace.
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