Topeka Capital-Journal
Sunday, December 19, 1999

54 inmates removed from jail where hostages held

The Associated Press

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. -- All 54 remaining prisoners were emptied Saturday from a south Louisiana jail where five Cuban inmates and another from the Bahamas held seven captives in a cramped office with no bathroom.

Authorities cut a hole through an interior wall so the 54 men wouldn't have to pass the warden's office where the hostage-takers would have seen them leave the St. Martin Parish Jail, Sheriff Charles Fuselier said.

"We didn't want any activity taking place that would cause concern and heighten anxiety there," Fuselier said. 'We made a door."

After their departure, the 54 inmates were bused to other jails.

Warden Todd Louvierre and female guard Jolie Sonnier were in good condition Saturday morning even though they had been shackled to chairs since Monday night, said Charles Mathews, agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office. Five female inmates also being held captive were believed to be in good condition.

"All appear to be doing as well as can be expected for being confined for 35 hours in the small confines of the warden's office," Mathews said.All 13 were holed up for a second day in the warden's office at the St. Martin Parish jail, after the hostage-takers left the lockup's larger command post and lost their control of most of the facility, sitting in the downtown area of the city of 7,000 people. The uprising began Monday when inmates being held for deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service armed themselves with homemade knives and took the warden and four guards hostage while being escorted to an exercise area.

One guard was released after about six hours. A second was released Thursday night.

Two Cuban hostage-takers surrendered late Thursday, and the others somehow lost control of the jail command post, with its switches for the facility's electric locks. It wasn't clear how the group ended up in the adjacent warden's office.

The inmates holding the hostages were demanding to be released and sent to another country.

Although they have completed their U.S. sentences, the Cubans are being held indefinitely in a state of legal limbo. The U.S. government won't release them because it considers them subject to deportation. But there is no agreement between the United States and Cuba to have them sent back. Officials didn't say why the Bahamian still is being held.

Late Saturday morning, a woman who identified herself as the mother of hostage-taker Roberto Villar-Gana arrived in St. Martinville and met with authorities.

"I don't want anything to happen to my son and I want everything to end peacefully," Mercedes Villar told NBC before entering a court building being used as a command center by negotiators.

Among those holding the hostages were two convicted killers -- Lazaro Elisante Orta, who has been in INS custody since 1997, and Anthony Deveaux, in INS custody since 1998.

Since the rebellion began, about 100 of the jail's 170 other inmates have been moved to other jails. About 20 more inmates were led Saturday out the back door of the jail. Reporters saw about 12 of the inmates being taken away in a van. The rest were inside a bus. Authorities didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment.