The Miami Herald
December 20, 1999

 Jail crisis ends

 Women intercede in hostage drama

 Herald Staff Writer

 ST. MARTINVILLE, La. -- A six-day hostage crisis at St. Martin's Parish Jail ended
 Saturday night after two women from Miami -- one of them the mother of a hostage-taker
 -- met inside the jail with the hostage takers.

 With tears streaming down her checks, Mercedes Villar, 52, the mother of inmate
 Roberto Villar-Gana, said the six hostage-takers had been promised safe
 passage to Cuba, where President Fidel Castro had agreed to accept them.

 ''It's over,'' said Villar, who flew in from Miami on Saturday to help mediate an end to the
 crisis. ''They're on the bus now and going to Cuba. They're going to an airplane and going
 to Cuba -- Havana. I'm happy. I'm happy.''

 Charles Mathews III, FBI special agent in charge, said the hostage siege ''was ended
 with a negotiated surrender of the hostage takers and the release of all seven'' hostages
 at 10 p.m. Saturday. Speaking at a press conference, he refused to provide any details
 of the deal or confirm that the inmates had been promised a flight to Cuba.

 Villar said she had spent 30 minutes with her son in the jail and he was fine. ''Everybody's
 good,'' she said.

 She was accompanied on the jail visit by Maggie Garcia of Miami, who had dated
 Villar-Gana before he was arrested. Garcia, 29, said the two women were
 accompanied to the warden's office by officials and heard an unnamed FBI agent
 read out a letter that said ''Fidel Castro agreed to take the six prisoners and it
 named each one.''

 Sheriff Charles Fusilier said two of the freed hostages, Warden Todd Louvierre,
 35, and deputy jailer Jolie Sonnier, were taken to a hospital after being freed. He
 said the warden showed no signs of physical abuse and ''seems to be all right.'' A
 first sign of the resolution came when SWAT teams that had stood by during the
 tense standoff came out of the prison late Saturday, high-fiving and whooping.
 When asked, ''Is it over?'' they nodded and went off.

 Earlier Saturday, security forces clandestinely cut through jailhouse concrete to
 remove the last 54 inmates on the sidelines of the uprising -- leaving the five
 Cuban and one Bahamian prisoners holding the final seven hostages in a revolt
 against U.S. immigration policy.

 At about 3:30 p.m. the Immigration and Naturalization Service bused away the
 inmates who had been surreptitiously removed, leaving only the hostages and
 their captors in the two-story facility.

 FBI Agent Mathews said law enforcement officers had cut a hole in an internal
 wall of the jail to remove the 54 prisoners. Otherwise, removing them would have
 required parading them past the warden's office, where the six inmates were
 holding the remaining hostages.

 ''We made a door,'' St. Martin Parish Sheriff Charles Fuselier said. ''We didn't
 want any activity taking place that would cause concern and heighten anxiety

 With the other prisoners gone, dozens of black-clad SWAT team members and
 parish sheriff's police surrounded the facility, many lurking in the shadows of
 trailers, cars and ambulances strewn around the downtown jail compound.


 Clearing the jail was made possible by Thursday night's surrender of two of the
 original hostage takers. The two, who also freed Deputy Brandon Boudreaux, 20,
 had controlled the jail's main command center and thus much of the second floor.

 Moving out the other prisoners also cleared the way for any plans to stage an
 assault on the warden's office -- and focused full law-enforcement attention on the
 negotiations. Earlier, there were split concerns: containing and relocating other
 inmates who may have had the freedom to roam the jail from Monday night
 through most of Thursday, and the FBI-INS negotiations with the hostage holders.

 The warden's office, where the remaining hostages were held on the second floor
 of the building, has a window looking into the rest of the jail, but no outside

 Nor does it have a restroom. Law enforcement officials said it does have a closet,
 which was equipped with a five-gallon bucket. The door to the office has not been
 opened, which seemingly would be necessary for the bucket to be emptied.

 The FBI's Mathews said hostage negotiators spoke with the hostages on


 ''All appear to be doing as well as expected after 35 hours'' of being confined, he

 Six of the hostages were women, including five prisoners and deputy jailer
 Sonnier. The seventh was Warden Louvierre.

 The hostage holders included a Bahamian ex-con also facing deportation; he
 apparently joined the revolt after the initial uprising.

 Unlike the others, Villar-Gana, whose mother showed up Saturday, was not under
 deportation orders. He was serving a state sentence after being convicted of
 attempted first-degree murder of a police officer.

 INS officials said he had previously been detained by the service.

 Of Villar-Gana's mother, Mathews said: ''One of the detainees' mother is here with
 us and has been as helpful as possible. Her contributions are fully voluntary.''

 Villar-Gana was first identified as a hostage holder Friday in a list issued by the
 joint law enforcement command center. Three lists of hostage-takers, sometimes
 with different names, have been released by police during the crisis.

 At the beginning of the siege, the INS had 72 detainees in the 160-bed parish jail.
 Those bused away Saturday were taken to other prison facilities, INS
 spokeswoman Amy Otten said. She would not name them.


 Hundreds of Cuban detainees are in legal limbo across the country, jailed in local,
 state and federal prisons because they were convicted of crimes and lost the right
 to stay in the United States. Their plight is raised in regular migration talks
 between U.S. and Cuban diplomats in New York and Havana, but Cuba remains
 unwilling to take them back.

 Attorney General Janet Reno, who oversees the FBI and INS as head of the
 Justice Department, has been monitoring the standoff constantly, law
 enforcement officials said.

 But Otten, the INS spokeswoman, said that contrary to reports, Reno at no time
 took charge of the situation.

 Day six of the siege brought torrential rains. But FBI Agent Kriss Fortunato said
 the FBI agents, hostage negotiators and SWAT teams that have lurked around
 the jail since the siege began were holding up, despite the adverse conditions.

 ''This is very difficult and stressful on everyone involved,'' she said.