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Federal appeals court decision upholding spying convictions draws Cuba fire

[JURIST] A US federal appeals court opinion [PDF text] upholding the convictions of five accused Cuban spies [advocacy website] prompted condemnation from the Cuban government Thursday, who called the decision political and unfair. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting en banc, on Wednesday handed down a 120-page decision overturning the decision of a three-judge Eleventh Circuit panel. In August 2005 the panel threw out the convictions [JURIST report] of the five defendants for being unregistered Cuban agents and for conspiring to commit murder, finding that media bias tainted the jury. The government appealed that decision and during a rehearing [JURIST reports] before the full appeals court, the defendants argued that "the pervasive community prejudice against the Cuban government and its agents and the publicity surrounding the trial that existed in Miami prevented them from obtaining a fair and impartial trial." Though the trial was held in Dade County, Florida, no Cuban-Americans served on the jury.

Writing for ten of the 12 circuit judges, as the same two judges who overturned the convictions in 2005 again sided with the defendants, Judge Charles Wilson wrote:

[The defendants] failed to show that so great a prejudice existed against them as to require a change of venue under Rule 21, in light of the court's effective use of prophylactic measures to carefully manage individual voir dire examination of each and every panel member and its successful steps to isolate the jury from every extrinsic influence. Under these circumstances, we will not disturb the district court's broad discretion in ruling that this is not one of those rare cases in which juror prejudice can be presumed.
The Havana newspaper Granma [media website] on Thursday noted that Wednesday's decision was released soon after Fidel Castro temporarily handed over Cuba's rule to his brother Raul while recovering from intestinal surgery and said that the decision reflected "hate and vengeance against the Cuban nation." One of the five defendants was convicted for his role in the deaths of four Cuban exiles whose plane was shot down by Cuban MiGs in international airspace in 1996. The five men have admitted being Cuban agents, but claimed to be gathering information on Cuban exiles, not information about the United States. In July 2005, a UN human rights panel condemned the convictions [JURIST report], saying that the lengthy jail sentences - three defendants were sentenced to life in prison - were "arbitrary." CNN has more. EFE News has additional coverage.

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