By Associated Press, Tuesday, March 22, 2:27 PM (as published in The New York Times)
MIAMI — In a new appeal, [the person who the Associate Press calls] a convicted Cuban spy insists he is innocent of any role in shooting down exile planes that dropped pro-democracy leaflets in 1996 on the communist island and helped rescue migrants in the ocean.
“I came to Florida in service to my country, unarmed, to contribute to end violence against my people and therefore to save lives,” Gerardo Hernandez, 45, said in a sworn statement filed in Miami federal court. “That I would be charged with a conspiracy to murder was the furthest thing from my thinking and reality.”
Hernandez is one of the so-called Cuban Five, convicted in 2001 of [according to the Associated Press] spying in the U.S. He is also the only one serving a life sentence for a murder conspiracy conviction arising from the Brothers to the Rescue planes that were shot down by Cuban fighter jets, which killed four men.
[The Associated Press very conveniently forgets to report that the planes were illegally flying inside Cuban territorial waters.]
Attorneys for Hernandez are asking U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard to throw out his conviction and sentence, based in part on his new claims filed Monday.
In the documents, Hernandez contends he was never told that he could have been tried separate from the others on the murder conspiracy charge. If he had, Hernandez said he would have testified in his own defense that he was innocent, something he did not do in the spy trial.
Attorney Richard Klugh said Hernandez could not testify in the spy trial because he would have had to admit on the stand that he was a Cuban agent and could not call his co-defendants as witnesses.
“He clearly had no involvement in the shootdown in 1996,” Klugh said. “Clearly there was a clamor for someone to take responsibility for it, but Gerardo Hernandez is not responsible.”
The Miami U.S. attorney’s office had no immediate comment.
Hernandez said in the affidavit he was unaware of any Cuban plan to shoot down the exile planes. Instead, he said he was involved in a plan labeled “Operation Venecia” to call international attention to their purported violations of Cuban sovereignty.
“The idea that Cuba would elaborate a plan to confront those planes on international waters was to me, and still is, absurd and irrational,” Hernandez said in the affidavit.
In one new wrinkle, Hernandez also said that he was replaced for several months by an agent known as “A-4” or “Miguel,” who took possession of a computer disk the spies used to decode messages from Havana. That’s significant because Hernandez said he did not have the disk when he supposedly sent a message warning that no Cuban agents should fly on the exile planes from Feb. 24-27 in 1996.
The Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down Feb. 24.
His affidavit also contends U.S. prosecutors portrayed a commendation he received and a promotion as linked to the downing of the planes. In fact, Hernandez said, he was promoted from lieutenant to captain along with dozens of others strictly based on length of service.
Hernandez has lost several other appeals, while three of the Cuban Five had their sentences reduced in 2009 because they never obtained top secret U.S. information — despite efforts to do so — from military installations such as the Miami-based Southern Command and Key West’s Boca Chica Naval Air Station. The five are hailed as heroes in Cuba.