[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


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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