Judge Orders Freedom For Crew of Plane Used in DEA Sting Attempt
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A court on Wednesday ordered the release of eight airline employees jailed after authorities discovered cocaine on their plane that later was found to have been planted there by U.S. drug agents.
Criminal Court Judge Fatima Baide de Mena told The Associated Press, ″Those who are detained will be set free in the next few hours because they did not willfully commit a crime.″
U.S. Embassy spokesman Terry Kneebone later said the men were free and that the six who were foreigners, including two Americans, were preparing to leave the country.
The U.S. Embassy said last week that Drug Enforcement Agency officers had put about 90 pounds of cocaine on board a jet belonging to Belize Air International Ltd. in Belize as part of plan to capture drug runners when the plane landed in Miami after stopping in Honduras.
Honduran authorities found the cocaine when the plane stopped in the northern city of San Pedro Sula and arrested the crew of six, as well as the airline’s Honduran representative and his son.
American authorities admitted they had bungled the operation by failing to notify Honduras that the drugs would be passing through.
The United States had requested freedom for the eight men, who were arrested April 6.
Honduran officials, offended at not being told about the operation, had at first threatened to prosecute the eight despite evidence they had no connection to the drugs.
But Attorney General Leonardo Matute Murillo on Tuesday acknowledged the DEA had not acted with bad intent.
″It was just human error,″ he said.
President Rafael Leonardo Callejas said Honduras has accepted an U.S. apology.
The eight include Claude Hopkins Woodhall, the pilot, of New York City; Alcides Diaz, also of the United States; Jean Dennis Boileau of Canada; Guatemalans Salvador Edgardo Moran and Leonardo Antonio Moran; a Peruvian, Jose Abelardo Colmet Cruzado; Belize Air’s local agent, Rafael Nodarse; and his son Tadeo.