U.S. says Cuba sets trial date for jailed contractor

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 24, 2011 11:03am EST

Judy Gross, wife of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross who is jailed in Cuba, shows their family picture during an interview with Reuters at her apartment in Washington October 23, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Judy Gross, wife of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross who is jailed in Cuba, shows their family picture during an interview with Reuters at her apartment in Washington October 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cuba has set a trial date for U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, the State Department said on Thursday, marking the next step in a case with has stalled progress in U.S.-Cuba relations.

"A trial date has been set for Alan Gross in Cuba. We hope he receives a fair trial and is allowed to come home. What he did is not a crime," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a message on Twitter.

Crowley did not say what the date was, and Gross' family attorney did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Cuba's state media said this month that prosecutors would seek a 20-year sentence for Gross, 61, who has been detained since he was arrested at his Havana hotel in December 2009.

Cuban authorities have accused him in the past of illegally importing satellite communications equipment and possibly spying. A government statement posted on the website of Communist Party newspaper Granma said Gross had been charged with crimes against the state.

The United States has said Gross, whose trip was funded by a U.S. program aimed a promoting political change in Cuba, was only providing satellite communications equipment and Internet access for Jewish groups on the island and was not a spy.

The Gross case has become a serious obstacle between the two nations, stalling steps by the governments of U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to improve long-strained ties.

But last month a senior U.S. State Department official expressed cautious optimism that Gross would be tried and freed once formal charges had been pressed.

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Eric Beech)

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