U.S. man jailed for 1968 hijack to Cuba to be re-sentenced
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK May 31 (Reuters) - A man serving a 15-year prison term for participating in a 1968 hijacking of a Pan American airliner to Cuba was improperly denied the possibility of parole and must be re-sentenced, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said that at the time of Luis Armando Pena Soltren's crime, defendants were entitled to possible early release through the parole process.
"Because the sentencing regime in place at the time of his crime included the possibility of parole, the district court was required to impose a sentence that did not eliminate parole eligibility," appeals court Judges Amalya Kearse and Susan Carney wrote. Judge Clifford Wallace, a visiting judge from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was also on the panel.
Congress abolished federal parole in 1984. Under the act, all offenses committed after 1987 are not eligible for parole.
Pena, 69, a U.S. citizen, turned himself in to authorities in October 2009 after spending more than four decades in Cuba as a fugitive. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in January 2011 by Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
The appeals court panel declined to re-assign the case to another judge.
"The record shows that judge Hellerstein fully considered Pena-Soltren's mitigating arguments in determining his sentence and made no error casting a shadow on the court's impartiality," the appeals court order said.
A lawyer for Pena, James Neuman, declined to comment on the appeals order.
On Nov. 11, 1968, Pena and two other men boarded Pan Am flight 281 to Puerto Rico from New York.
About 90 minutes into the journey, Pena held a knife to a flight attendant's throat and a gun to her back. He marched her to the cockpit, where the men ordered the pilots to change course.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, dozens of planes were hijacked from the United States to Cuba as Cold War tensions with the island's leader, Fidel Castro, intensified.
Some people hijacked the planes to make political statements, while others sought asylum in Cuba or ransom payments from the U.S. government.
The case is U.S. v. Luis Armando Pena Soltren, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, No. 11-256.
For Pena: James Neuman.
For the government: Ryan Poscablo and Justin Weddle, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of New York. (Reporting by Basil Katz)
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