BY JAY WEAVER | Miami Herald
Actual title from the Miami Herald: Daughter of pilot executed by Cuba wins suit
A Palmetto Bay woman was awarded nearly $87 million in a lawsuit against Fidel Castro and the Cuban government for the desecration of the body of her father, a CIA pilot during the Bay of Pigs.
The daughter of a CIA pilot shot down during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and later executed by the Cuban government won an $86.5 million judgment on Thursday—including huge punitive damages imposed against President Fidel Castro, his brother Raul and their country’s army.
Janet Ray Weininger, of Palmetto Bay, was only 6 years old when her father, Thomas ‘‘Pete’’ Ray, was killed. His body was frozen, desecrated and put on display in a Havana morgue for 18 years before it was shipped back to his family.
After her court victory, Ray Weininger said she felt a deep connection to her late father and a reward of justice.
‘‘I feel I have honored my father and stood with him,’’ said Ray Weininger, a 50-year-old mother of two. “It’s an incredibly good feeling. But at the same time, it’s so painful I want to cry.’‘
Ray Weininger—like a handful of others who also filed suits in state and federal courts in Miami—was able to pierce the Cuban government’s sovereign immunity under a 1996 law that allows victims of designated terrorist states to sue for damages. The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has allowed the families of Brothers to the Rescue fliers shot down by the Cuban Air Force, the jilted wife of a Cuban spy and the survivors of an American businessman executed during Cuba’s revolution to challenge Castro’s government in court.
In all the cases, the Cuban government has not defended itself at trial.
Despite the legal victories, only the families of three Brothers’ shootdown victims have been successful in collecting damages from seized Cuban assets held in U.S. banks. The total collection: $93 million—only about half of the $187 million court judgment.
The families won their federal suit in 1997, but it took four years of heavy lobbying before the Treasury Department and President Clinton signed off on releasing the money.
The plaintiffs in the other two cases have not been as successful in collecting millions in damages.
‘‘We have made great progress in collecting three [Cuban] planes,’’ said attorney Fernando Zulueta.
The planes were seized after they were hijacked from Cuba and flown to the United States.
Two of the planes were sold at auction for a total of $19,000 in 2003, and the other was turned into an exile monument.
Zulueta represents Ana Margarita Martinez, the former wife of the Cuban spy Juan Pablo Roque. She won $27 million in Miami Circuit Court in 2001.
Zulueta is also the lawyer for the family of Howard Anderson, who was shot by a Cuban firing squad after the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Andersons were awarded $67 million last year.
Zulueta and other lawyers are seeking to recover an estimated $100 million in frozen Cuban assets that remain in U.S. banks.
Ray Weininger’s lawyers—Spencer Eig, Joseph Zumpano and Leon Patricios—said they plan to go after those assets or seize other Cuban properties held in the United States.
Ray Weininger’s nonjury trial began Monday, when she and a few others testified about the father’s death and the family’s ordeal.
Pete Ray, an Alabama National Guard pilot, was flying for the CIA in the April 19, 1961, Bay of Pigs invasion when his plane was heaviliy damaged. He survived a crash landing, she testified. His plane went down near Fidel Castro’s headquarters. He made it out of the plane alive, but was injured in a gun battle.
When her father was being treated by Cuban doctors for his wounds, the army carried out the orders of the Castro brothers and killed him with a single shot to his right temple, according to court evidence.
The body was kicked, spit on and displayed for political purposes during that period. Notified of his death, the Ray family was told only that he had died in the Caribbean Sea, with no other details.
Ray Weininger began her search for information as a child. But it wasn’t until 1978 that Castro admitted that he had the body of a U.S. pilot killed in the 1961 invasion.
In December 1979, after the remains had been identified through dental records as those of Thomas Willard Ray, they were shipped home to the United States.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick, in his eight-page opinion, said he was particularly repelled by evidence detailing the Cuban officials’ mistreatment of Ray’s body.
‘‘There was testimony at trial that Pete Ray’s body, which was kept in a freezer in Havana, Cuba, for 18 years, was desecrated,’’ Dresnick wrote.
“Eyewitness testimony established that high-ranking officials of the Cuban government would routinely remove Pete Ray’s body from the freezer to mock it and to place their feet on top of his face.’‘
Dresnick awarded Ray Weininger $65 million in punitive damages and another $18 million as compensatory damages for pain and suffering. He also awarded more than $3.5 million to her father’s estate, for which she is the representative.