Wed, Feb 2, 2011
By Will Weissert
EL PASO, Texas — A Texas judge refused to declare a mistrial Tuesday for an elderly ex-CIA operative after his defence attorney called prosecutors' star witness "a scoundrel."
Luis Posada Carriles, well-known in his native Cuba as a personal nemesis of Fidel Castro, is charged with perjury and accused of lying during immigration hearings in El Paso. His lead attorney, Arturo Hernandez, argued that the case should be thrown out because of false testimony from government informant Gilberto Abascal.
Jurors weren't present when Hernandez called Abascal "a scoundrel" and said he biased the jury by accusing Posada's lawyers of criminal wrongdoing. Prosecutors said Hernandez was unfairly "injecting himself into the case."
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone — for the fourth time since the trial began three weeks ago — denied Hernandez's request.
Posada, 82, is accused of lying under oath about how he reached U.S. soil and for failing to acknowledge planning a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. Posada is charged with perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.
Abascal, a suburban Miami handyman and FBI informant, has spent seven days testifying. He told jurors he was the mechanic on a yacht that picked up Posada in Mexico and helped him slip ashore in Miami in 2005. Posada told immigration officials he sneaked across the Texas border with a smuggler.
On Tuesday, Hernandez asked about an interview that Abascal gave to The Miami Herald in April 2006, in which he said he was going to co-operative with the FBI because, "I am not going to serve 20 years for anybody." Hernandez suggested Abascal had been pressured by government authorities into testifying against Posada.
Abascal responded by accusing Hernandez of slandering him in the South Florida press.
When jurors took a break later, Hernandez told the judge that the testimony amounted to a personal attack and accused prosecutors of not doing enough to fix the problem.
"Because I've shown the light on that scoundrel, he has attacked me," Hernandez said. "I need to retain my credibility in front of this jury. ... I am asking that the court correct it in the only way it can."
U.S. Attorney Jerome Teresinski said Hernandez was trying to intimidate Abascal, prompting Hernandez to accuse the prosecutor of being "loose with his facts."
Although she didn't end the trial, Cardone admonished Abascal after the jury returned. Abascal has accused Hernandez of following him for years and sending agents to his ex-wife's home. Last week, he cried before facing Hernandez.
Also Tuesday, the jury heard from Cletus William, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer assigned to register boats entering the country in Miami.
William said he remembered the arrival of a yacht called the Santrina on March 18, 2005, even though he handles dozens of such entries per day. He said the yacht made him suspicious since it seemed too large a vessel to simply be returning from a cruise to the Bahamas, as those onboard claimed. He also said the boat landed in an area usually reserved for commercial craft.
William testified that Posada was not on the boat by the time it registered with border authorities.
That was consistent with Abascal's testimony. He said Posada left the Santrina aboard a speedboat that dropped him ashore at a waterfront restaurant.
The white-haired Posada, who has struggled at times to stay awake during the trial, fell asleep Tuesday morning and briefly snored — an image that clashed with the one described in court.
After participating indirectly in the Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada worked for the CIA and later served as head of Venezuelan intelligence. In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed Nicaraguan "contra" rebels.
Posada was imprisoned in Panama for a 2000 plot to kill Castro during a visit there, but was eventually pardoned and arrived in the U.S., prompting the current charges against him. He was jailed in El Paso but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.
Posada admitted in a 1998 interview with the New York Times to organizing the hotel attacks in an effort to hurt Cuban tourism, but he has since recanted. Posada, an anti-Castro militant, is featured on propaganda billboards in Cuba.
Cuba and Venezuela also accuse him of organizing an explosion aboard a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73 people. A U.S. immigration judge has previously ruled that he couldn't be deported to either country because of fears of torture.
Diario de El Paso: Posada Carriles duerme «como un bebé»