Judge Rejects Lawsuit Over Cuba’s 1996 Shoot-Down Reply

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

The brother of one of the South Florida pilots shot down and killed by Cuban MiGs 18 years ago says he will pursue his lawsuit demanding that U.S. prosecutors submit evidence of murder against Fidel and Raúl Castro to a grand jury.

“I don’t understand what these prosecutors have been doing all this time,” said Nelson Morales, 66, whose brother Pablo was killed in the Feb. 24, 1996 shootdown along with Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre and Mario de la Peña.

Morales filed suit last year to force U.S. prosecutors in Miami to present to a grand jury any evidence of the Castro brothers’ guilt in the deaths, including recordings and interviews in which they accept responsibility for downing the planes.

The federal prosecutors filed murder charges against Gen. Ruben Martinez Puente, who commanded Cuba’s air defense in 1996, and brothers Lorenzo Alberto and Francisco Pérez Pérez, who piloted the MiGs. But they did not indict the Castro brothers.

U.S. Judge Donald H. Graham rejected Morales’ suit last month, ruling that the petitioner sought to encroach on prosecutorial discretions and that Morales had not met one of the technical requirements of the law.

Attorney Juan Carlos Zorrilla, who represents Morales, has filed a notice of appeal to the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta. He argues that the lawsuit seeks only to force the prosecutors to present the evidence to a grand jury. The grand jury and prosecutors can then decline to pursue the case, the attorney added.
Zorrilla said Morales will separately attempt to resolve the technical issue by seeking a meeting with the federal prosecutors in Miami to personally turn over the evidence against the Castro brothers and ask that it be presented to the grand jury.

Former U.S. Attorney Kendall B. Coffey and Brothers to the Rescue leader Jose Basulto presented much of the evidence to the prosecutors in 2008, but Graham ruled the law required that Morales himself present the evidence.

“We will go to Atlanta, we will do anything and everything necessary for this case,” Morales said. “I don’t understand why a federal judge and federal prosecutors are protecting these murderers.”

Zorrilla filed the “writ of mandamus” — a request for a court order requiring the government to take action — in July to force prosecutors to submit any evidence implicating Fidel and Raúl Castro in the deaths. Prosecutors also should inform the grand jury that it can vote to pursue an inquiry on its own, the lawsuit added.

Editor’s Note: Fidel Castro personally approved Directorate of Intelligence (DI) activities supporting the shoot-down of “Brothers to the Rescue” aircraft. The spy service’s codename for the mission was “Operation Scorpion.”

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