Cuban sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for hijacking
By Ann W. O'Neill
A Cuban architect's quest for freedom by hijacking a passenger plane
from Havana to Key West ended Friday with a 20-year federal prison
At a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Miami, Adermis Wilson
González, 34, called Cuban President Fidel Castro a tyrant, invoked
the saga of Elián González, and said he was gratified his wife and young son could live in freedom even if he could not.
"I am happy to be here in the United States, far away from the clutches
of the tyrant Castro," Wilson said through a Spanish interpreter. "I
know that God is on my side today, that God is looking at the freedom my wife and child are enjoying ... the freedom all Cubans long for."
Wilson, his wife, Lehidy, 19, and son, Andy, 3, were among 51 people
aboard a Cuban Airlines AN-24 on March 31. About 20 minutes into the half-hour
Wilson commandeered the plane, pulling the pins in two harmless hand-painted ceramic grenades he carried on board.
The plane landed in Havana, and 21 passengers who asked to stay in Cuba
were released. Food and water were ordered for the remaining passengers.
refueled during 15 hours of tense negotiations with Cuban officials, including Castro.
During the standoff, Castro ordered Cuban authorities to give Wilson
$250. And, after Wilson released about 21 passengers and the plane was
refueled, Castro told
him, "OK, you got what you wanted. Don't hurt anyone. We'll give you whatever you want."
Two U.S. Navy fighter jets escorted the plane to Key West, where Wilson was arrested.
On Friday Wilson told U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith he was sure he would have been executed had the plane remained in Cuba.
It was the first time Wilson spoke in court about the hijacking. He did not testify at his trial, because he was not permitted to raise a political defense.
After a four-day trial in July, a Key West jury deliberated for an hour before finding Wilson guilty of air piracy.
Wilson said he was better off than most on Cuba's Isle of Youth. He
had a house and a company car. But, like everyone else, he said, he did
not have freedom or
hope for the future. "Desperate times breed desperate acts," said his lawyer, Stewart Abrams.
Wilson asked Highsmith to weigh his actions in context with the Elián
González case. The 5-year-old boy's mother drowned as she and 10
others tried to enter the
United States by boat on Thanksgiving Day 1999. The child survived and became the center of a highly publicized international custody battle before being returned
to Cuba five months later.
"We should go back, perhaps, to the time of the child Elián and
take into consideration the way in which his mother drowned," Wilson said.
"This child saw his
mommy drown. I would never expose my family to a thing like this, to lose them at sea."
Wiping tears from her eyes, Lehidy Wilson said outside court: "I can
imagine Fidel is very happy today, but my life is a disgrace now. He didn't
harm anyone. He
was just looking for a way out."
The hijacking was part of a cluster of incidents last spring during
a touchy time in U.S.-Cuba relations. Three Cubans were executed for hijacking
a Cuban ferry, and
six more are scheduled to go on trial in Key West in December for a plane hijacking in March.
Highsmith said he would recommend Wilson be allowed to stay in the United States after his release.
Ann W. O'Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4531.
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