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