Feds expand charges against 6 admitted Cuban hijackers
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
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
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
hijacking a ferry a day after the plane hijacking.
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