Saturday, January 31, 2009

'Cuban Five' file appeal with Supreme Court

January 30, 2009 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)

'Cuban Five' file appeal with Supreme Court
By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Five Cubans convicted in 2001 of spying for the
Castro regime have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant a new trial in
a politically charged case that has attracted international attention.
A man takes a picture in September of a sculpture in honor of the Cuban
Five in Havana, Cuba.

A man takes a picture in September of a sculpture in honor of the Cuban
Five in Havana, Cuba.

Lawyers for the men, known as the "Cuban Five," filed a petition Friday,
saying their trial in Miami was unfairly prejudiced by the larger community.

"The pervasive and violent anti-Castro struggle of the Miami community
would not only infect the jury with hostility but would cause jurors to
fear for their (and their families') safety, livelihoods, and community
standing if they acquitted," it said.

The petition asks the justices to throw out the verdicts and order a new
trial for the five. Cuban leader Raul Castro has offered to exchange
about 200 prisoners, believed by the United States to be political
prisoners, for the five men.

There was no initial reaction to the court filing from the U.S.
attorney's office for the Southern District of Florida. The government
is expected to oppose the request for the high court to take up the matter.

A decision from the justices is expected this spring. If the case were
added to the docket, oral arguments would be held in the fall.

In 2001, a Miami jury convicted Ruben Campa, also known as Fernando
Gonzalez; Rene Gonzalez; Gerardo Hernandez; Luis Medina (also known as
Ramon Labanino) and Antonio Guerrero, members of what was called the
Wasp Network, on charges they had spied on prominent Cuban-American
exile leaders and U.S. military bases. They were arrested in September 1998.

Group leader Gerardo Hernandez also was convicted of conspiracy to
commit murder for engineering the shoot-down in 1996 of two planes flown
by the group Brothers to the Rescue.

Cuban fighter jets downed the unarmed Cessnas as they flew toward the
island, where they had previously dropped anti-government leaflets. Four
men died.

During the trial, the defendants claimed they had spied as a way to
defend Cuba from hard-line anti-Castro groups in Miami they feared would
attack the island. All five are serving time in federal prisons.

The case has been widely followed in Cuba, where the men were regarded
as heroes and whose communist leader, Fidel Castro, regularly advocated
their release.

A federal appeals court had originally thrown out the convictions, but
later reinstated them.

Attorney Thomas Goldstein, representing the five, said lower courts
unfairly refused to move the trial from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, 30
miles to the north. "The defendants were very concerned about the
prevalent anti-Castro hostility, and the tremendous press coverage," he
said, "The [federal] appeals court has made it virtually impossible to
get a change of venue, even in this kind of case."

The appeal also claimed prosecutors unfairly excused seven potential
African-Americans from the pool of potential jurors. The final jury
included three black members but no Cuban-Americans.

The Cuban Five trial was the only judicial proceeding in U.S. history
condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Eight Nobel Prize winners
have also petitioned the U.S. attorney general, calling for freedom for
the five.

The case is Campa et al. v. U.S.

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