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Trial of Captured American Begins in Nicaragua

October 30, 1986

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ A government prosecutor Wednesday opened the case against U.S. mercenary Eugene Hasenfus by presenting documents found after Sandinista troops shot down his Contra supply plane.

The prosecutor, Ivan Villavicencio, handed evidence one piece at a time to the court secretary, including a card Nicaraguan authorities say gave Hasenfus access to restricted aras of Ilopango military airport in El Salvador.

Villavicencio also asked that the court view the videocassette of an interview Hasenfus gave to Mike Wallace on the CBS program ″60 Minutes.″ The program, translated into Spanish, was shown on Nicaraguan television.

Hasenfus said in the interview that he believed he was working for the U.S. government when he made the supply runs.

A book of names, addresses and telephone numbers of former crew members of Air America, which Hasenfus said in the interview was a CIA airline that he worked for in Southeast Asia, was also entered as evidence in the court.

Neither Hasenfus nor his Nicaraguan lawyer, Enrique Sotelo Borgen, was in court. Presentation of evidence by the prosecution and defense to the special political tribunal trying the first American captured in Nicaragua’s 4 1/2 -year war was to last eight to 12 days.

Hasenfus’ lawyer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that once the prosecution presents its case, the tribunal has to notify him in writing so he can respond in writing. It was not clear whether he would be allowed to present defense arguments in person.

Hasenfus, a 45-year-old former Marine from Marinette, Wis., is charged with terrorism, conspiracy and violating public security. If convicted by the three-member tribunal, he could face up to 30 years in prison.

Griffin Bell, a former U.S. attorney general who is acting as an adviser to the Nicaraguan lawyer, left Wednesday to prepare the defense after Sandinista authorities barred him from seeing Hasenfus. Bell said he would return Sunday.

Reynaldo Monterrey, the tribunal’s president, said on the government Voice of Nicaragua radio that Hasenfus’ lawyer could have 50 advisers if he wished, but only Sotelo Borgen could see evidence presented in the case.

The card which purportedly gave the captured mercenary access to restricted areas of Ilopango was numbered 4422, was made out to Hasenfus and bore the Salvadoran air force emblem.

The card, issued July 28 with an expiration date of Jan. 28, 1987, read ″Group: USA″ and ″Specialty: Adviser.″ On the reverse, under ″Restricted areas,″ was a list of numbers.

Hasenfus has said that he participated in 10 arms drops to the U.S.-backed rebels from bases in El Salvador and Honduras and that the operations were coordinated by the CIA.

Tons of arms were stored at Ilopango, then shipped to the rebels, known as Contras, who are fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government, he has said.

Hasenfus parachuted from the burning C-123 when it was shot down Oct. 5 and was captured a day later in southern Nicaragua. Wallace B. Sawyer of Magnolia, Ark., American William Cooper and a third crew member died in the crash.

Among other evidence Villavicencio submitted were what he described as flight documents from the plane, an Arkansas fishing license made out to Sawyer, a business card from Century 21 real estate company in the name of Hasenfus’ wife Sally and Sawyer’s and Hasenfus’ U.S. drivers licenses.

Many of the documents were dirt-encrusted and had already been shown to journalists.

Monterrey said in court that the documents would be examined later to determine if they were genuine.

In Washington, the State Department contended that Hasenfus has been denied due process.

″The issue as far as we’re concerned is that Hasenfus receive fair and equitable treatment. He’s a private American citizen on trial before a communist tribunal,″ said State Department spokesman Charles Redman.

He said the Sandinistas are not interested in justice but rather in a ″show trial.″

Hasenfus has said he worked for Corporate Air Services, which has the same Miami address as a company formerly owned by the CIA, Southern Air Transport.

In interviews with U.S. journalists, Hasenfus has said he was hired to carry small arms and ammunition to the rebels and said he believed it was a covert CIA operation. The United States has denied any official role in the arms drops.

Sotelo Borgen said that Hasenfus was a cargo specialist contracted by a legally operating civilian company.

″I can categorically assure you that my client did not belong to the Central Intelligence Agency,″ Sotelo said in the telephone interview. ″He was not contracted by (the agency) nor does he have any link nor anything to do with official U.S. agencies.″

″He has told me that on the three occasions we have met,″ he said.

″If he says anything to the contrary in other circumstances, it is due to some type of pressure that his captors are exercising on him.″

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