The Miami Herald

October 11, 1980


Jury Can’t Decide If He Was a Patriot Or Airplane Hijacker



Herald Staff Writer

            A federal jury was unable to decide Friday whether a Mariel refugee was telling the truth when he said the 1964 hijacking of a small plane from Key West to Cuba was part of a cover for a CIA mission to kill Fidel Castro.

            Enrique Castillo Hernandez, a Bay of Pigs veteran and former CIA employee who spend the past 16 years in a Cuban prison, turned himself in last June at a refugee camp in Fort Chaffee, Ark.

            U.S. District Judge Joe Eaton declared a mistrial after the jury had deliberated for about 5 ½ hours.

            Assistant Federal Public Defender Fred Moreno said Castillo, in cooperation with the CIA, had worked to overthrow Castro after Castillo’s arrival in Miami in 1959.

            “IN FEBRUARY 1964, he once again was asked by CIA agents to infiltrate Cuba,” Moreno said.  He added that “the same government that induced Enrique Castillo to act not only as a Cuban patriot but on behalf of the United States” now is trying him for air piracy.

            Assistant U.S. Attorney William Turnoff said Castillo’s association with the CIA ended in 1962, two years before the takeover of the twin-engine Piper Apache.

            But Castillo, speaking through an interpreter, said he still was working for what he called “the company” at the time.

            “It was a plan to kill Castro,” he testified.  “There was a cover of a hijacking so the life of the American would be protected.”

            The American was Richard Lee Wright, then 23 and a part-time pilot and flight instructor for Tamiami Aviation Co.

            Wright, now a pilot for Texas International Airlines in Dallas, was the government’s sole witness.  He said he had been hired to fly two Cubans on a business trip to Key West and Naples and then back to Miami.  On his descent to Key West, he said, the barrel of a gun was pressed between his shoulder blades.  He was ordered to turn off his radio and fly to Cuba.

            WRIGHT SAID he landed at a Havana airport, although Castillo, who said he had been a pilot since the age of 13, testified that he took over the controls and landed the plane himself.  The original plan had been to land in a deserted highway in the woods, he said.  He did not say why the plan was changed.

            The mission involved supplying Cuban guerrillas with weapons and otherwise preparing for a commando raid, he said.  The 1964 flight was arranged “by a group of American friends of ours.”

            Asked if the American friends were U.S. agents, Castillo guardedly said, “It’s possible.”

            No CIA agents testified at the two-day trial, although a CIA attorney monitored the proceedings.

            A second defendant, Reinaldo Lopez Lima Rodriguez, allegedly held the weapon to Wright’s back.  Castillo told the FBI that it was Lima who informed him that the mission was sponsored by the CIA.  Lima is still believed to be in prison in Cuba.

            Shortly before the hijacking, both Lima and Castillo had been questioned as part of an investigation into forged checks.  Charges never were filed.

            It was not immediately clear whether the government would retry the case.  Air piracy carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of death.