Sentencing delayed for 6 suspects in hijacking of Cuban plane
A federal judge has delayed sentencing six skyjackers while prosecutors ask a key Cuban witness who defected if he wants to change testimony that helped convict them.
The legal maneuvering began when defense attorneys for the six Cubans, convicted by a federal jury Dec. 11 in Key West, asked to interview flight attendant Abilio Hernandez Garcia. The government's witness slipped away from his guards after the trial and remains in the United States.
"Defendants assert that Mr. Hernandez Garcia's testimony may have been influenced by the prospect of a return to Cuba," U.S. District James Lawrence King noted in an order that became public Monday. He refused to order the government to reveal the flight attendant's whereabouts. But he did order prosecutors to serve as messengers, asking Hernandez Garcia whether he wished to change his testimony or meet with the defense.
The judge gave prosecutors eight days to contact the witness. In earlier correspondence, the government indicated that Hernandez Garcia would stand by his testimony.
He took the stand on the third day of the trial, saying he was grabbed from behind and led to the back of the plane with a knife pressed to his throat. He said his hands were tied and he was thrown to the floor. Other crewmembers were piled on top of him, he said. Under cross-examination he denied embellishing his testimony to appease the Cuban government.
At the trial, defense attorneys contended that crewmembers participated in the plan to fly the plane north to Florida on March 19, 2003, characterizing it as a "freedom flight."
The pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant traveled from Cuba to Key West to testify. Only the flight attendant did not return, slipping out of a Miami hotel on Dec. 12, the day after the trial ended.