Terrorist's Fate Likely to Depend on Ethnicity of Juror
Unbelievable. Imagine any other newspaper in this country casually informing its readers that the fate of two "activists" (found with weapons, intending to cause terrorism = terrorists not activists) would depend on the legal manuevering of their lawyers in regards to the race and ethnicity of the juror pool. There would (rightly) be outrage on every talk show in America. But when your Congressional Representative publicly expreses support and respect for said terrorists, you know things are a little different in Miami (“They don’t go planting bombs in supermarkets,” Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart actually said. He's right, they're only responsible for bombs at hotels and restaurants). As it always has been, violent Cuban extremists (with help from their rich allies) find ways to use our legal system to their advantage. Ironically, the trial date is set for September 11th. Click here for background on the case against these 2.
Hispanic jurors called key to Castro foes' fate
The high-stakes weapons case against two anti-Castro activists will likely boil down to who sits on the federal jury in the Fort Lauderdale trial set for next week.
BY JAY WEAVER
When two anti-Castro activists were arrested on weapons charges in Miami, federal prosecutors filed the indictment in Fort Lauderdale -- seen as an ''insult'' by the pair's supporters.
The legal team for Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat tried in vain to move the case back to Miami, arguing it was the only way the Cuban exiles could get a fair jury trial.
As the Sept. 12 trial approaches, their attorneys have come up with a new tactic: Allow Miami-Dade residents to sit alongside Broward residents in the jury pool so that some Cuban Americans might be selected.
It's legal, but it may be a long shot.
And it points to the sensitive issue of choosing jurors in the bordering counties for federal trials in which race or ethnicity can make the difference between a verdict of guilt or innocence.(!!!!)
A longtime jury consultant said the stakes over who sits on the 12-person jury couldn't be higher. Both Miami men, 64, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted -- though there's an outside chance they might cut plea deals at the last minute for far lesser sentences.
''The question is, are these guys terrorists or heroes? In Miami-Dade, they're going to be viewed as heroes,'' said Amy Singer, a South Florida psychologist who heads Trial Consultants, Inc.
''In Miami-Dade, the defendants have a good chance of being found not guilty,'' she said. ``In Fort Lauderdale, the jury might actually listen to the facts of the case. There are a lot of Hispanics in Fort Lauderdale, but it's still heavily Anglo. There's more of an anti-bilingual, anti-Hispanic flavor in Fort Lauderdale.''
Prosecutors flatly oppose the defense proposal, saying it's an attempt to get around the judge's earlier decision to deny moving the case to Miami. Their plan ''is not constitutionally sound, fundamentally fair, or consistent with the Southern District's random jury selection plan,'' prosecutors Jacqueline Arango and Randy Hummel wrote in court papers.
Now, the divisive issue must be answered by presiding U.S. District Judge James Cohn.
Normally, federal jurors are selected from the immediate area where a crime was charged, but a judge can make an exception in a large regional district such as South Florida to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial by a jury of his peers.
It's so rare, however, that lawyers for Alvarez and Mitat cited a case in Tennessee to make their point.
Their attorneys argue that the strikingly different demographics between Miami-Dade and Broward counties should compel Cohn to allow a two-county jury.
Citing 2004 Census Bureau numbers, about one out of three prospective jurors are likely to be Cuban American in Miami-Dade. The number rises to one out of 25 in Broward, according to an analysis by Florida International University professor Kevin Hill.
In court papers, the defendants' lawyers Kendall Coffey and Ben Kuehne wrote: ``With Broward's noticeable absence of a sizable Cuban-American population, drawing from a jury [pool] that includes Miami-Dade jurors will promote a fair trial and ensure the jury is appropriately reflective of the community.''
Last December, Alvarez and Mitat pleaded not guilty to weapons charges -- including illegal possession of machine guns, rifles and silencers with obliterated serial numbers -- in a Miami federal court.
Chanting ''¡Libertad!'' on the Miami courthouse steps, dozens of the men's supporters denounced their prosecution in Fort Lauderdale, where a grand jury indicted them on charges of storing illegal firearms in a Broward apartment complex that belonged to Alvarez, a wealthy developer.
U.S. government agents first learned about Alvarez in May 2005 when he helped Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles emerge from hiding before his arrest for entering the country illegally. Posada is still in federal custody in Texas.
The charges filed against Alvarez and Mitat are unrelated to Posada's past anti-Castro activities, but prosecutors plan to introduce trial evidence showing Alvarez and Mitat ``have been involved in planning and staging insurgent paramilitary operations against Cuba.''