Attorneys Assess Wells Fargo Convictions
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The conviction of four Puerto Rican nationalists in the $7.1 million Wells Fargo robbery could revitalize the independence movement in Puerto Rico, a professor who has written a book about the case said Tuesday.
″It’s going to provide a tremendous stimulous,″ said Ronald Fernandez, a sociology professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
Five defendants were accused of being members of Los Macheteros, a militant group seeking Puerto Rican independence. The group has been linked to terrorist attacks on U.S. military installations on the Carribean island.
Fernandez, who wrote ″Los Macheteros″ about the case, compared their cases to that of Lt. Col. Oliver North, on trial in the Iran-Contra case.
″Oliver North was clearly engaged in revolutionary activity, clearly used violence and allegedly used illegal means. But a large number of Americans perceive him to be a hero, a patriot and are willing to look the other way. It’s the same thing for the Macheteros in Puerto Rico,″ he said. ″A portion of the population regards them as patriots and regard this a terribly unjust thing.″
Juan E. Segarra Palmer III, 39; Antonio Camacho Negron, 45; Norman Ramirez Talavera, 32; and Roberto Maldonado Rivera, 53, were convicted Monday at U.S. District Court in Hartford, ending a trial that began Oct. 11, 1988.
Segarra was found guilty on robbery, conspiracy and transportation of stolen money charges, but innocent on four weapons-related charges. He’s being held without bond and faces up to 165 years in prison.
Camacho’s bond was revoked and he faces up to 15 years in prison, while the others face up to five years behind bars. No sentencing date was set.
A fifth defendant, Carlos Ayes Suarez, 29, an anthropology student, was the only defendant found innocent. He had faced a conspiracy charge stemming from the Sept. 12, 1983, heist of about 900 pounds in cash from the Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford.
Fernandez said the defendants should have been tried in a different location by an Hispanic jury.
U.S. Attorney Stanley A. Twardy Jr. didn’t immediately return telephone calls to his office in New Haven.
Throughout pre-trial proceedings, defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to have the trial moved to Puerto Rico. U.S. District Judge T. Emmet Clarie refused.
″It clearly proves that Puerto Rican patriots cannot get a fair trail in the United States, and that’s the reason they brought it to Hartford in the first place,″ said defense attorney Ronald L. Kuby of New York City.
Kuby represents Luis Alfredo Colon Osorio, one of nine other defendants awaiting trial. The second trial has been delayed while prosecutors appeal Clarie’s decision to suppress wiretap evidence.
Kuby and other attorneys for the defendants awaiting trial said Tuesday a second trial might not be held if Clarie’s wiretap ruling is upheld because of the money and time it would take to prosecute. But if a second trial is held, they said they would renew their efforts to move it out of Hartford.
″The only place it’s conceivable to get a fair trial is in Puerto Rico,″ said Richard J. Harvey, an attorney from New York City.
Harvey represents Filiberto Ojeda Rios, who the government considers a leader of Los Macheteros. Ojeda is jailed in Puerto Rico on charges of shooting an FBI agent when authorities raided Ojeda’s house and arrested him in 1985 in connection with the robbery.