U.S. News

Top court won't review case of five Cuban spies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal by five convicted Cuban spies who argued their trial should have been moved from Miami, the heart of the Cuban American community, because of a biased jury pool.

Without comment, the justices refused to review a U.S. appeals court ruling that the five intelligence agents, who are serving long prison sentences, had failed to establish a right to change the trial venue from Miami.

FBI agents arrested the five in 1998. They were convicted in 2001 of 26 counts of spying on the Cuban exile community in Miami on behalf of Fidel Castro’s government.

Before the trial, defense lawyers sought to have the case moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They argued pervasive anti-Castro sentiment in the Miami community would infect the jury with hostility and bias against the defendants, and cited intense pretrial publicity surrounding the case.

The so-called Cuban Five are celebrated by many in Cuba as national heroes who were spying on armed exile groups in Miami to prevent attacks on their country. They are considered victims of a U.S. campaign against the communist-run island.

To hard-line, anti-Castro members of the Cuban exile community, the five were justly convicted, and Havana’s support for them has been seen as an example of an anti-U.S. agenda in Cuba dating back to Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Cuba’s parliament called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal “a monstrous injustice,” saying court justices had acted on orders from the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama without considering the merits of the case.

“The highhandedness of a corrupt and hypocritical system is evident yet again in its brutal and cruel treatment of our brothers,” the Cuban parliament said in a statement.

The judge presiding over the case ruled the defendants had failed to show it would be virtually impossible to get a fair trial in Miami. He said questioning of potential jurors would allow the defendants to get a fair trial by an impartial jury.

A U.S. appeals court also rejected their claims that the trial should have been moved because of widespread opposition among Cuban Americans in Miami to the government in Havana.

Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Havana; Editing by Will Dunham