An appeals lawyer for the leader of five Cuban spies convicted in a Miami trial filed an affidavit Monday arguing that Radio/TV Marti secretly paid millions of dollars to journalists to influence jury members against his client.
The document was filed in support of Gerardo Hernández’s habeas corpus appeal filed earlier this year, asking U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard, who presided over the “Wasp Network” trial, to overturn his conviction.
Hernández is serving two life sentences on charges that encrypted reports he sent to Havana helped Cuban MiG jets shoot down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue airplanes over international waters in 1996, killing all four South Florida men aboard.
Martin Garbus, a prominent civil rights lawyer, argued in the brief that the U.S. government tainted the jurors in the trial of the five Cubans by using the U.S. government-owned Radio/TV Marti to hire journalists expressly to produce reports condemning the spies.
The New York attorney noted that some of the payments were secret — the affidavit uses the word 55 times — and argued that prosecutors should have revealed them to the defense during the trial. The government’s continuing refusal to make some information public amounts to a cover-up, he added.
The negative reporting amounted to illegal propaganda “by agents, not journalists,” designed to predispose potential jurors to convict the five, Garbus added. He gave no details on the 12 jurors who convicted the five.
“Every dollar for every article, image, radio or television show that was spent on this secret program violated the integrity of the trial,” Garbus wrote.
Radio/TV Marti and the dozen or so South Florida journalists mentioned in the affidavit have previously denied those allegations, first made public in 2006.
The five confessed that they are Cuban intelligence agents but insisted they were only monitoring radical exiles who might stage terrorist attacks on the island. Two reported on U.S. military flights out of the Florida Keys and Tampa, and the network tried repeatedly to infiltrate the Pentagon’s Miami-based Southern Command.
All five were convicted of 23 spying-related charges. Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero remain in U.S. prisons. René González finished serving his 13-year sentence in October but is now serving three years of parole somewhere in the United States.
The habeas corpus appeal, filed earlier this year, is Hernandez’s last-ditch effort to overturn his conviction. The U.S. Supreme court already has refused to consider an appeal that the five did not get a fair trial in Miami.
The Cuban government has maintained a long-running publicity campaign defending the “Five Heroes” and all but offered to swap them for Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence in Havana.