Freshly-minted jurors at the Luis Posada Carriles trial in El Paso got a taste yesterday of what they can expect during the next few months as Posada’s immigration fraud proceedings morphed from jury selection to the almost-beginnings of the trial itself.
After lawyers for the two sides agreed on who should serve on the jury—they chose seven women and five men, plus four female alternates, almost all of them Hispanic—the jurors cooled their heels outside the courtroom while prosecution and defence lawyers debated legal points during a private, 16-minute side-bar with Judge Kathleen Cardone.
After the jurors were finally sworn in, the judge sent them on what was supposed to be a brief familiarization tour of the jury room that will be their home away from home for the duration of the trial. While the jurors got the guided tour, the lawyers clashed again in a lengthy dispute outside the jury’s hearing, this time over who would get to say what and in what order during the trial’s opening statements, which are expected to begin this morning.
By the time the jurors were eventually recalled to the court room, there was only time enough left in the day for the judge to admonish the jurors not to talk about evidence they have yet to hear and send them on their way for the day.
- Judge Kathleen Cardone gave defence lawyers one more chance to convince her they should be able to argue—as part of their opening statement to the jury today—that Cuba has a history of “fabricating” evidence, including during the Cuban Five trial in 2000. Posada’s defence lawyers want to argue that Cuba offered doctored documents at that trial concerning a 1996 shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft. Cardone made it clear she was leaning to ruling the Cuban Five case irrelevant to the current proceedings but agreed to hear more defence arguments first.
- Lead prosecutor Timothy Reardon, poured scorn on the defence strategy. “This is not the History Channel,” he said of plans to put what the defence calls the “Cuban regime” on trial.
- In what may be a sign of prosecution strategy to come, Reardon also his his best to bait the defendant. He turned to face Posada directly as he raised the issue of what he called the “poor Italian” who was killed during one of the 1997 Havana bomb blasts. Posada appeared to meet his gaze and smirked in return. Judge Cardone quickly admonished Reardon not to make “comments.”
- There was more outside-the-courtroom byplay too. A lawyer representing Venezuela claims one of Posada’s henchman threatened to kill him. José Pertierra says the man warned him during an encounter at the nearby hotel where Posada is staying: “Dog, I’ll take care of you.” Venezuela is seeking Posada’s extradition to face charges in connection with the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 that killed 73 people. Pertierra has complained to the FBI about the incident which was witnessed by a reporter from Telesur, a Latin American TV network.
- There’s apparently a back story to Judge Kathleen Cardone’s reluctance to allow any kind of recording devices in her courtroom. Cardone was the judge in another controversial, high profile case. Two U.S. Border Patrol agents were on trial for shooting a fleeing drug smuggler in 2005. During the proceedings, someone apparently used a cell phone to surreptitiously make videos of court proceedings, which ended up on the Internet. When El Paso’s new federal court house opened seven months ago, cellphones, cameras and other recording devices were banned from the building.