Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Miami Herald, August 6, 1976, "A Day Costs Latham 15 Years" by Joe Crankshaw.

One day cost Gary Latham, 22, Fort Lauderdale, an additional 15 years in prison for the attempted bombing of a Little Havana adult bookstore last May 6.

Latham Thursday entered a plea of no contest to charges that he, Antonio Rafael de la Cova and Blas Jesus Corbo tried to bomb the bookstore at 3458 SW 8th St. Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Morphonios said Latham could expect a sentence of 35 years in prison.

Latham started to enter a guilty plea on Wednesday that would have resulted in a 20-year sentence, but he stopped because he found out he would have to testify against de la Cova, who is his friend.

But Thursday morning, acting under pressure from his family, Latham stood with his attorney, Alfonso Sepe, and Assistant State Attorney Hank Adorno and changed his innocent plea to no contest.

De la Cova tried twice to talk to Latham before the plea was changed, but was rebuffed by the attorneys. Latham never looked at his friend, was fingerprinted and taken from the courtroom before the jury arrived.

De la Cova stopped Sepe. "Dr. Sepe," he asked, "why did you do that?"

"I had to think of Gary," replied Sepe.

"But you never lost a case," protested de la Cova.

"I didn't win this one," said Sepe walking out of the courtroom, leaving only de la Cova and Corbo when a curious jury entered in a few moments.

Sepe said the state's decision to call Miguel Angel Peraza, 35, a confidential informant for the FBI who was with the trio at the bookstore May 6, may have affected Latham's decision.

Peraza, whom FBI agent George Kiszynski said received about $3,900 this year for his work, is expected to be the main witness called to the stand this morning. Latham may also testify.

State Public Defender Mel Black, representing de la Cova, said he did not know if de la Cova would change his plea.

Corbo showed no emotion at the change, and his attorney, Nathan Kurtz, continued to highlight the fact that none of the witnesses knew Corbo would be on the bombing attempt and that none of his fingerprints were found on any of the evidence. Corbo says he only went along for a ride with Latham, de la Cova and Peraza.

Peraza, who was granted immunity against prosecution on charges that he unlawfully possessed dynamite during a fake bomb attempt on his wife's car last fall, gave attorneys a lengthy sworn statement Wednesday night.

The statement is expected to be incorporated into his testimony before the court today.

Peraza's lengthy sworn statement says that he gained de la Cova's confidence by pretending to be a terrorist, although he never encouraged the defendant to commit any acts of violence.

Peraza said he began working for the FBI about three years ago to combat pro-Castro activists. He said he believes de la Cova to be Communist because he "hated this country" and often "hummed a Cuban Communist hymn."

In the statement, Peraza said he thought de la Cova was a defector from pro-Castro ranks but still a Communist. Despite this view, he says he was with de la Cova and Corbo when fire bombs were thrown at the residence of Vicente Dopico, an employee of Areito, a Spanish language magazine favoring a middle of the road policy with Castro.

Peraza says that a Boca Raton synagogue was an alternate target for the trio, the night the assault on the bookstore took place, and that other persons were also targeted for bombings.

Ironically, de la Cova has said he believed he was also fighting Communists and often rode around Little Havana spotting pro-Castro sympathizers for the FBI.

But the lengthy, two-volume deposition, also shows that Peraza took a polygraph of lie detector test to determine his truthfulness at the West Palm Beach Police Department. He passed most of the test, but flunked, according to his own statement, the portion in which he said he did not plant a stick of dynamite on his own car.

Peraza told the attorneys that he believed that agent Kiszynski was the person who told Metro police to search the Peraza home for dynamite, thus setting him up for an arrest on the fake bomb charge.

Two FBI laboratory experts testified they found fingerprints from de la Cova and Latham on the evidence, but none from Peraza. Defense attorneys have maintained that Peraza supplied the materials and explosives and built the bomb which was to have been used May 6.

State Attorney George Yoss said the state may wind up its main case today.

Copyright (c) 1976 The Miami Herald