[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] outlining fairness concerns the group has with the 2001 conviction of the "Cuban Five" [advocacy website; JURIST news archive]. The men - Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez - were convicted of acting as Cuban intelligence agents. The men are currently serving sentences ranging from 15 years to life in US federal prisons. They were arrested in 1998 in Miami and were charged and convicted of various offenses, including acting and conspiring to act as unregistered agents of the Cuban government and fraud and misuse of identity documents. Hernandez was additionally charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for his role in the shooting down of a plane carrying members of the US anti-Castro organization Brothers to the Rescue [advocacy website] in 1996, resulting in four deaths. AI's fairness concerns center around the fact that the men were tried in Miami, which AI alleges prevented the men from receiving a fair trial due to local hostility to the Cuban government and undermined their access to an impartial jury, explaining:
Miami is home to the largest Cuban exile population in the USA and there is no doubt that the trial took place in a venue where there was substantial, even uniquely extensive, community hostility to the Cuban government, then led by Fidel Castro. There were also strong local connections to the Brothers to the Rescue organization, the deaths of four of whose members formed a key part of the prosecution's case. Both before, during and after the trial, the defendants sought to have the trial moved to Fort Lauderdale, less than 30 miles away, in motions which were denied by the district court.AI also alleges that the evidence used to convict Hernandez of conspiracy to commit murder was not strong and that all of the men received limited access to their attorneys and documents during pre-trail detention. AI sent the report [press release] to US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website], urging him to "review the case and mitigate any injustice through the clemency process or other appropriate means, should further legal appeals prove ineffective."
The men admit that they were working as Cuban spies, but say that they were watching the activities of exile groups opposed to former Cuban president Fidel Castro [BBC profile], rather than the US government. In December, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida reduced Labanino's life sentence [JURIST report] to 30 years and reduced Gonzalez's sentence from 19 to 18 years in prison. The judge had previously reduced Guerrero's sentence from life to 22 years in October 2009. These reductions came after the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled in 2008 that the sentences were excessive. In 2005, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the trial in Miami was biased [JURIST report] due to community prejudice and extensive media coverage. The US government appealed that decision and a rehearing was held before the full appeals court, which upheld [JURIST reports] the convictions. The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal [JURIST report] in the matter.