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