Hijacker of Cuban plane convicted of air piracy
BY JENNIFER BABSON
KEY WEST - A federal jury took about 67 minutes Thursday to convict a Cuban man of air piracy for an April incident in which he brandished two fake grenades and forced a Cubana airlines passenger plane to Key West under U.S. fighter jet escort.
Adermis Wilson Gonzalez, 34, now faces at least 20 years in prison.
His attorney, Stewart G. Abrams, said Thursday he will appeal the verdict, which was rendered by a four-woman, eight-man panel. Wilson is scheduled to be sentenced in Miami Sept. 19 by U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith.
Abrams declined to comment specifically on the jury's decision.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Lilly Ann Sanchez, who tried the case along with Asst. U.S. Attorney Seth Eric Miles, said she was pleased.
"We are extremely satisfied," she said.
The March 31-April 1 incident -- which began on the Isle of Youth on Cuba's south coast -- occurred less than two weeks after the hijacking of another Cuban airliner from the same airport. Prosecutors argued that Wilson unleashed a "15-hour night of terror" when he produced two realistic-looking ceramic grenades and told passengers and crew that he would blow up the Havana-bound plane if it wasn't diverted to the United States.
But the aircraft only had about 15 minutes of fuel left, according to prosecutors and witnesses. So it landed on a Havana runway instead, where it sat for hours as negotiators -- including Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, James Cason -- tried unsuccessfully to talk Wilson down. Eventually -- late in the morning on April 1 -- the plane was refueled and allowed to depart for Florida.
Thursday's verdict followed a decision earlier in the day by Highsmith to bar Wilson from testifying that he changed his mind about the hijacking in Havana but was afraid to surrender for fear of being killed. Highsmith also warned that if Wilson violated that edict, he would observe the rest of the trial "on a monitor in a room upstairs."
Wilson addressed Highsmith but not jurors, saying the judge's prohibition would leave him with little to say and so he would not take the stand. Wilson had been scheduled as the defense's only witness.
"I would not be able to testify freely," Wilson told Highsmith in Spanish through a translator. "I think I would be left without any opportunity to give testimony about this case."
Abrams later told reporters he had hoped his client would be allowed to talk about "what happened in Cuba on the ground and what his state of mind was at the time."
Wilson said nothing and showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Earlier in the day, he waved to his common-law wife and 3-year-old stepson in the courtroom. Both accompanied him on the hijacked flight and are living in Naples.
Wilson is expected to be transferred to the Federal Detention Center in Miami shortly.