Judge: Exclude confessions of two hijackers
BY CATHERINE WILSON
Confessions by two of six admitted Cuban hijackers should not
be used at their trial because FBI agents forgot to give them their Miranda
afterward, a judge recommended in a decision issued Thursday.
But U.S. Magistrate John O'Sullivan said edited summaries of
confessions by the other four defendants can be admitted at a trial scheduled
to start next
month in Key West, where the Cubana Airlines DC-3 landed March 19.
Prosecutors have 10 days to ask the trial judge to overrule O'Sullivan, who concluded that the agents broke a cardinal rule of interrogation.
''Unwarned statements that are otherwise voluntary must be excluded,'' he wrote. ``A defendant cannot waive Miranda after the fact.''
The FBI and prosecutors have acknowledged that the Miranda warnings
were an oversight in the questioning of Neudis Infantes Hernández
Martin Feigenbaum, attorney for Infantes, said he was ''very
pleased'' with the ruling. ''It's too early to tell how this ruling ultimately
will affect the outcome
of the case,'' he said. ``It wouldn't guarantee an acquittal.''
Mario Cano, attorney for Eduardo Mejia Morales, said, ``It is definitely helpful for those two cases and most likely helpful for the balance as well.''
Calls to other defense attorneys were not immediately returned.
Matt Dates, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, had no comment on the rulings.
The decision will be unwelcome news in Cuba, where the government has accused the United States of being soft on hijackers.
Infantes and Arias described guarding bound crew members at the back of the plane.
They said other hijackers burst into the cockpit with knives and hustled all but the pilot to the rear.
The hijacked plane was carrying 29 passengers on a domestic flight from the Isle of Youth to Havana.
The hijackers threw out their knives and surrendered in Key West. Several brought along relatives, who were allowed to stay in the United States.
Attorneys on both sides have arranged an investigative trip to
Cuba in preparation for a Sept. 8 trial. The air piracy charges carry a
possible sentence of 20
years to life in federal prison.
Cuban architect Adermis Wilson González, 34, was convicted
last month of hijacking another Cuban plane on April 1 with 31 people aboard.
government executed three Cubans for hijacking a ferry a day after Wilson commandeered the AN-24.
The State Department condemned the spate of hijackings but expressed concern that Cuba may have summarily executed the ferry hijackers.
Since the hijackings, Cuban-American community leaders in Miami
have stepped up criticism of the U.S. wet-foot-dry-foot immigration policy,
which results in
most Cubans intercepted at sea being sent back. Those who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay.