The trial of six men accused of hijacking a Cuban Douglas DC-3 plane in March, which landed at the Key West International Airport, is scheduled to start Monday, despite defense attorneys’ attempts Wednesday to get it delayed or dismissed.
U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King denied a motion for continuance of the trial Wednesday afternoon in Miami. A motion to dismiss the case was also denied. The trial is to begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the Key West Federal Courthouse.
The six men, who each face charges of conspiracy, air piracy and interfering with a flight crew, are accused of taking control of the plane by using 12-inch knives to threaten the five-member Cuban crew.
The aircraft originated from Nueva Gerona, a city on the Isle of Youth, and was bound for Havana with 25 passengers on board, including five children and family members of the accused hijackers. All passengers and crew were Cuban with the exception of one Italian passenger; some opted to return to their homeland afterward. No one was hurt during the hijacking.
King recently ruled that defense attorneys representing the six men will not be allowed to present to the jury a scenario of the difficult economic and political living conditions in Cuba. According to the judge’s order, King said the current destitute conditions in the communist country are “irrelevant as to whether defendants are guilty of the crimes charged,” and ordered that any evidence demonstrating such must be excluded from the jury.
In addition, the defense was dealt another blow when it was announced the Cuban government will allow government witnesses from that country to come to Key West to testify on behalf of the prosecution, but that no non-government witnesses—private Cuban citizens—will be allowed to testify for the defense. Defense attorneys were told they needed to go to Cuba to obtain depositions.