December 3, 2010 / 10:40 PM / 9 years ago

Cuba commutes bomber's death sentence to 30 years

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has commuted the death sentence of a Salvadoran man convicted of killing an Italian tourist during a 1997-1998 hotel bombing spree to 30 years in prison, a state-run Internet site said on Friday.

The Supreme Court began hearing Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon’s appeal of the capital sentence for “terrorism of a continuous character” on Thursday.

“The court announced its decision to substitute the original sentence for one of 30 years, the maximum that could be imposed,” the Cubadebate website reported.

Cuba has not carried out an execution since 2003, when three men were shot by firing squad after hijacking a local ferry in hopes of going to the United States.

President Raul Castro commuted the sentences of everyone on death row in 2008, with the exception of those convicted of terrorism.

Cruz Leon, 39, confessed to bombing six hotels and tourism- related establishments in 1997 and 1998, killing the Italian tourist and wounding a number of other people.

Cuba charged that the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, an exile organization that opposes the Castro government, was behind a total of 15 bombings over 18 months. The group has denied the bombings.

Cruz Leon testified during his trial that he was recruited by Salvadoran Francisco Chavez Abarca, now in Cuban custody after being captured by Venezuelan authorities in July.

Two other captured bombers from Guatemala also implicated Chavez Abarca.

Chavez Abarca has since confessed to a number of the bombings and identified former CIA agent Luis Posada Carilles, a Cuban-American accused of involvement in various violent acts against Cuba, as the man who hired him.

Cuba says Carilles, who lives in Miami, was responsible for the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing all 73 people aboard.

Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Peter Cooney

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