Closing arguments delayed in ex-CIA agent case

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2011 1:26 PM
Closing arguments delayed in ex-CIA agent case

Closing arguments were postponed Wednesday in the oft-delayed federal perjury trial of an elderly anti-communist militant from Cuba considered former President Fidel Castro's nemesis.

The trial of 83-year-old Luis Posada Carriles was suspended for at least a day due to unforeseen circumstances, according to an official who said court rules prohibited him from being quoted by name. No further details were available, but the delay could have something to do with a sealed motion filed after midnight Wednesday by the defense.

No one disputes that Posada, an ex-CIA agent and Cuba native, slipped into the United States in 2005, but prosecutors say he lied during immigration hearings in El Paso about how he made it into the country. They also accuse him of lying about his alleged planning of a wave of 1997 bombings at Cuban luxury hotels and an iconic Havana tourist restaurant, killing an Italian visitor and wounded about a dozen other people.

Posada faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud. How much jail time he could receive if convicted is subject to federal sentencing guidelines and hard to specify.

The trial has moved painstakingly slowly since it started Jan. 10, mainly because the defense unsuccessfully lobbied the judge to declare a mistrial 13 times.

The latest suspension was so unexpected that the trio of federal prosecutors assigned to the case _ all from a special anti-terrorism division of the Justice Department in Washington _ came to court Wednesday, only to find that defendant and his attorneys absent.

Even before the latest delay, the defense asked U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone to declare their client not guilty of all charges without the jury having to consider them. She let eight perjury and immigration fraud charges stand, but is still considering three counts of obstruction.

If Cardone grants Posada acquittals on the obstruction counts, that would mean the 1997 Cuba bombings _ and his alleged role in them _ would no longer be relevant, dramatically changing the face of the case.

Her ruling, which could come Thursday, cannot be appealed.

The court official said that closing arguments should be held Thursday, and that both sides will have three hours each to present them.

Born in Cuba, Posada was a CIA operative until 1976 and participated indirectly in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. He was arrested in Venezuela for planning the downing of a 1976 Cuban airliner that killed 73 people but escaped, and was imprisoned for four years in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a summit there.

He is Public Enemy No. 1 in his homeland, even featured on propaganda billboards, but some in the Cuban-American exile community consider him a patriot and freedom fighter. His defense team maintains that instead of federal prison, Posada should be allowed to retire to Miami a hero, hailed for his service during the darkest days of the cold war.