Jury convicts Cuban migrant of air piracy

Walter Lippmann walterlx at enet.cu
Thu Jul 10 16:24:47 MDT 2003

(This may well be the very first time a
US jury has convicted a hijacker from
Cuba. The jury took only two hours!)

The Sun-Sentinel
Keys jury convicts Cuban migrant of air piracy

By Laura Myers

July 10, 2003, 2:17 PM EDT

KEY WEST -- A Cuban who forced a Cubana Airlines passenger
plane to fly over the Florida Straits to the United States
in April was found guilty of air piracy by a Florida court
Thursday and faces up to life in prison.

Adelmis Wilson Gonzalez, 34, was accused of using fake hand
grenades to hijack the twin-prop Antonov-24 plane, which
began as a domestic flight from Cuba's Isle of Youth to
Havana and ended up the next day in Key West on the southern
tip of Florida.

The 12-person jury in a Key West federal court took less
than two hours to find Wilson Gonzalez guilty of one count
of air piracy, a conviction that carries a sentence of 20
years to life in prison. Sentencing was set for Sept. 19.

The hijacking was one of three in March and April by Cubans
trying to flee communist-run Cuba for the United States.

Cuba executed three hijackers who commandeered a Havana
ferry with 50 passengers on board on April 2. President
Fidel Castro's government was widely condemned abroad for
the executions, which took place just weeks after a round-up
of some 75 dissidents on the island.

In a rare show of cooperation between Havana and Washington,
which have no diplomatic ties, the Cuban pilot of the
hijacked plane returned to Florida to testify Tuesday, the
first day of the trial in Key West.

Wilson Gonzalez, who served three years in the Cuban
military, was accused of crafting two fake homemade ceramic
grenades at home, making the pins out of electrical wires.
About 25 minutes into the flight from the Isle of Youth, he
banged on a cockpit door, yelling that he had two grenades
and wanted to fly to the United States.

Wilson Gonzalez allegedly threatened to kill everyone on
board if the plane landed in Havana to refuel but the pilot
set the aircraft down at the Havana airport on March 31

While in Havana, both Castro and top U.S. diplomat James
Cason pleaded with him to give up. Wilson Gonzalez allowed
more than 20 passengers to disembark at Havana but continued
to insist on going to the United States, the court heard.
The plane landed safely in Key West the following day and
Wilson Gonzalez surrendered to police.

During the trial, defense attorney Stewart Abrams
acknowledged that ``irrational things'' took place, but said
Wilson Gonzalez, who was traveling with his wife and
3-year-old son, had no intention of hurting anyone.

The exact number of people on board was unclear. Affidavits
filed in the case put the number of people on board at the
time of takeoff from the Isle of Youth at 51 while Tuesday's
testimony referred to 50 people. The affidavits say that 21
disembarked in Havana while the testimony in Key West put
that number at 22.

Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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