Friday, June 13, 2008

The Miami Herald, September 1, 1976, "Judge Deals Out Stiff Jail Terms in Bombing Try" by Joe Crankshaw.

Antonio Rafael de la Cova told a Dade Circuit Court Tuesday that he once helped the FBI finger Castro agents who have infiltrated the Miami Cuban community. FBI agents in the courtroom didn't dispute the assertion.

De la Cova, 25, had remained silent throughout the trial earlier this month which resulted in his conviction for the attempted bombing of a Little Havana adult bookstore May 6. But Tuesday he vainly tried to convince Circuit Judge Ellen Morphonios not to sentence him to 65 years in prison.

Gary E. Latham, a co-defendant who pleaded no contest, was sentenced to 35 years in prison after his defense attorney, Alfonso Sepe, asked the court for leniency. Sepe said Latham was a brilliant individual, but easily influenced by others to do acts against his will.

Assistant State Attorney George Yoss, who prosecuted the case with Assistant State Attorney Hank Adorno, opposed any relaxation of the sentences against the two men.

Yoss told Judge Morphonios that Latham had been cooperative, but that he deserved to be sentenced to show other persons in the community what they could expect if they engaged in such terrorist activities.

Judge Morphonios sentenced a third defendant, Blas Jesus Corbo, also known as Evaristo Yanez, to five years in prison for conspiracy. Corbo faces trial in federal court on the bombing charges although de la Cova and Latham already have negotiated pleas and have been sentenced to 15 and 12 years respectively in federal prison.

After hearing statements from de la Cova and Latham Tuesday, Judge Morphonios judged the men guilty and passed sentences on them totaling 65 years imprisonment for de la Cova and 35 years for Latham.

"The sentences will run consecutively to all federal terms," said Judge Morphonios, meaning that de la Cova could spend 80 years in prison. Latham's negotiations specify his state and federal terms will be served concurrently.

In a handwritten statement, read into the record by Assistant State Public Defender Mel Black, de la Cova charged that:

- His trial was "hastily assembled for a quick conviction and maximum sentence as a way of appeasing the community for the inability to solve previous bombings in Miami."

- "An overwhelming campaign was launched in the newspapers and the electronic news media to falsely portray me as a Communist, a Castro agent, an anti-Semite and anti-American among other defamations." He said the allegations endangered his life in jail.

- The state's key witness, FBI informant Miguel Angel Peraza, "lied under oath when claiming not to have provided explosives and other materials presented as evidence to the court."

De la Cova said federal and state prosecutors "are aware" of Peraza's perjury, but are taking no actions against him.

Peraza denied under oath that he provided any explosives, materials or even the idea for the bookstore bombing. He submitted to a polygraph or lie detector examination administered by the West Palm Beach Police Department and was reportedly cleared of any active role in the attempted bombing.

In his statement, de la Cova told the judge that he had come to the United States when his family fled Castro in Cuba and that "my Christian and democratic environment influenced me to oppose communism relentlessly and vehemently."

De la Cova said FBI agents seized 107 dossiers from his personal archives, which described Castro agents and sympathizers operating in the Miami area, including one on the "mysterious SBD Corporation who (sic) operated the pornographic bookstore at 3458 SW Eighth St.

"I have been found guilty of violating the laws of this nation," said de la Cova, "but my motivation was not to defy the system, instead it became a futile attempt to expose those who threaten its very existence and are responsible for the misery in my own country."

De la Cova also alleged that Peraza had fomented the plot by influencing "my nationalistic impulses."

Black and Sepe argued fruitlessly that Judge Morphonios could not pyramid the sentences finding the two defendants guilty on some or all of the seven charges filed by the state.

But Yoss argued that de la Cova deserved the "same mercy he would have shown any person who walked by that bookstore in the 40 seconds after the fuse had been lit."

When Yoss characterized Latham as extremely brilliant, cooperative and a person who could be a credit to the community, Judge Morphonios finished his sentence saying: "And if people had been in the street they would have been blown to smithereens by this man."

Both attorneys indicated their clients will appeal the sentences.

Copyright (c) 1976 The Miami Herald

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Miami Herald, August 7, 1976, "2 Convicted in Bomb Attempt" by Joe Crankshaw.

Antonio Rafael de la Cova, a graduate history student, and Blas Jesus Corbo, a Pennsylvania prison escapee, were found guilty Friday night of the May 6 attempted bombing of a Little Havana adult bookstore.

A third defendant - Gary Latham, a near genius 22-year-old physics student from Fort Lauderdale - changed his plea from innocent to no contest on Thursday and faces a 35 year prison sentence in connection with the attack.

The trio were the first persons to be arrested and convicted in connection with a wave of bombings which plagued the community in 1975 and 1976.

The three men were arrested by a 30-member posse of FBI and police outside Libros Para Adultos about 1:30 a.m., May 6, after an FBI confidential informant warned of the impending plot.

FBI agents and police recovered more than 50 items of evidence, including a pipe bomb, wigs, .38-caliber revolver, surgical gloves, dynamite, fuses, black powder, and proclamations claiming credit for the bookstore bombing and other Miami area bombings.

The prosecution finished its case Friday afternoon and the defense, in a surprise move, did not call a single witness.

Defense attorneys, Nathan Kurtz and Assistant State Public Defender Mel Black, had contended that the FBI informant entrapped de la Cova, 25, of Miami, and Corbo, 20, of Miami Beach, into placing the bomb at the bookstore.

But the argument apparently fell on deaf ears, for when the jury of four men and two women returned to the hushed, oak-paneled courtroom after five hours of deliberation, they found de la Cova guilty of all seven charges against him.

Corbo, the jury said, was only guilty of conspiracy. Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Morphonios immediately sentenced him to five years in prison because he is already wanted for escape from a Pennsylvania prison.

Judge Morphonios will sentence both de la Cova and Latham on August 31. She has said she will give Latham 35 years and de la Cova 65 years in prison.

The two defendants sat quietly at their defense table. They showed no emotion. The families, warned by the judge against any outburst, sat stiffly in their seats, clenching their fists in their laps.

De la Cova's youngest sister crossed herself several times as the court clerk read off each charge ending with the word guilty for the brother.

Outside, Mrs. Nancy de la Cova, who had smiled at her son as he was lead away, said only: "I put my trust in God on this."

"I don;t understand," said de la Cova's father, Rene. "He is so smart and I am so dumb, but he is in jail and I am out here."

Other family members, who had heard the defendants singing "Cuba Libre" and the Cuban national anthem in the courthouse holding cells during the wait for the jury verdict.

The key witness in the weeklong trial of the three men was a confidential informant, Miguel Angel Peraza, 35, Miami, a veteran of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.

Peraza told the jury that he had met de la Cova at a funeral in late January or early February, and that he had allowed the defendant to believe that he (Peraza) was a terrorist.

Peraza told of meetings with de la Cova and Latham to discuss bombs and bombings which eventually culminated with de la Cova revealing the plan to bomb the bookstore, against which Peraza had lead a protest march.

When he learned of the plan, Peraza said he told an FBI agent who then contacted Miami and Metro police to make an arrest.

Although Peraza told police of the plan, he did not know that Corbo would come along on what he called an "operation." Corbo was picked up by de la Cova and Latham almost as an afterthought, Peraza said. He said that Corbo did not know of the attack until he was riding across the MacArthur Causeway.

Peraza's testimony, plus the absence of evidence from FBI agents or police, apparently caused the jury to find [Corbo] guilty only of conspiracy because he did not protest the plan to bomb the bookstore.

But Peraza said that de la Cova planned the attack, made the bomb and assigned everyone roles in the May 6 incident, then carried a .38-caliber revolver and the bomb to the front of the store. The jury found him guilty of all seven charges filed by Assistant State Attorneys Hank Adorno and George Yoss.

Peraza's testimony concluded the state presentation of the case, and Black and Kurtz said they would put no witnesses or defense because they had not been given sufficient time to study state evidence and the informant's testimony.

After the trial, Black said that de la Cova himself had made the decision not to take the stand because it would have "forced the state to require his brother-in-law, Gary Latham, to take the stand against him. He didn't want to do that."

One of the stipulations in the Thursday change of plea by Latham, was that he would testify against Corbo and de la Cova if requested.

"And de la Cova said he would not plead guilty for a lesser sentence," said Black, "because he will never consent to becoming an informant."

"I don't know where he learned all this or how he got into this," said de la Cova's father. "He never talked politics at home and he never said anything about bombs.

"He never asked for money, except for school, and he always worked. When they called me to say he had been arrested, I thought it was for a traffic ticket."

Adorno, however, told the jury that the bombing attack was the act of cowards with no concern for the safety of anyone walking along SW 8th Street where the bookstore is located.

"They put a 40-second fuse on that bomb. You know how long 40 seconds is?" Adorno said, pointing to the clock and sitting down in his seat for 40 seconds. "It's long enough for them to get away. It's long enough for someone else to walk by the store when the bomb goes off. Hold them accountable, vote them guilty."

Black said his client never denied placing the bomb at the bookstore. But he said he did so at the insistence of Peraza, who sought to justify himself and earn reward money from the FBI.

"My client is only guilty of carrying a gun and having illegal dynamite," said Black in a surprise move. "All the other charges are the fault of the government which let them happen.

"Find him guilty on those two charges and tell the government it overstepped its boundaries on the others," concluded Black.

But the jury found him guilty on each charge. Black said he will file an appeal for de la Cova within 15 days. Corbo's lawyer said he is undecided about an appeal.

Copyright (c) 1976 The Miami Herald