South Florida Sun-Sentinel
September 2, 2003

Feds expand charges against 6 admitted Cuban hijackers

Associated Press

MIAMI -- Prosecutors have expanded charges in a politically sensitive case against six admitted Cuban hijackers by adding two counts carrying a possible life prison sentence.

The six Cuban men already had been facing possible life sentences on air piracy and conspiracy charges. They now also are charged with interfering with a flight crew and a related conspiracy count.

Their trial is scheduled to start Monday in Key West. It wasn't immediately known if the change would cause a delay.

The revision follows an unusual investigative trip by five defense attorneys, prosecutors and the FBI to Cuba, which accused the United States of being soft on hijackers after a spate of plane and boat hijackings in March and April.

In turn, the staunchly Republican Cuban-American community in Miami has criticized the Bush administration for being too harsh on Cubans trying to reach the
United States.

Cuba has dragged its feet on some U.S. criminal investigations by delaying action on visa requests until it was too late. The trip was arranged at the request of the
defense, and prosecutors joined in.

The prosecution case has been hobbled somewhat by a decision throwing out confessions by two of the six men because FBI agents forgot to give them their
Miranda warnings until after they described the Cubana Airlines hijacking.

The DC-3 carrying 29 passengers was on a flight from Cuba's Isle of Youth to Havana when it was commandeered by men with knives within view of the Cuban
capital. It landed March 19 in Key West.

Some of the hijackers' relatives were on the flight and have been allowed to stay in the United States.

A Cuban architect was convicted in Key West of hijacking another Cuban plane with 31 people aboard April 1. The Castro government executed three Cubans for
hijacking a ferry a day after the plane hijacking.

Copyright © 2003