MIAMI (AP) _ Five Cubans were convicted Friday of conspiring to spy on the United States for Fidel Castro's communist regime. The leader of the group faces up to life in prison for his role in a Cuban air force attack that killed four American fliers.
Gerardo Hernandez was found guilty of contributing to the death of the four Brothers to the Rescue members shot down by Cuban jet fighters in international airspace in 1996.
Relatives of the dead men were present throughout the trial which lasted six months. The jury deliberated five days.
Prosecutors accused Hernandez of knowing about the plot to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes Feb. 24, 1996, because he warned two agents who infiltrated the group not to fly during a four-day period.
The defense said he was prosecuted as a scapegoat for the Cuban government, which had warned, after nearly two years of violations of its airspace by the group, that intruders risked being shot down.
Flights by Brothers founder Jose Basulto included a low-level pass over Havana and a mission to drop 500,000 political leaflets. His plane crossed into Cuban airspace on the day of the attack. He was the lone survivor.
``This is justice. This is an act of God,'' said Basulto. ``I'm glad the jury saw through all the lies given to them.''
All five defendants were convicted of operating as foreign agents without notifying the U.S. government and conspiracy. Three of the group were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for their efforts to penetrate U.S. military bases even though they obtained no U.S. secrets. The men showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
Prosecutors presented a case based largely on 2,000 pages of decrypted communications peppered with communist jargon seized when the agents were indicted in 1998 as part of the 14-member Wasp Network.
The defense relied on the decades-long history of animosity between the United States and Cuba, saying the agents' primary mission was to thwart extremist exiles who supported terrorism against Cuba. The defense cited a string of Havana bombings that killed one tourist and injured 12 others in 1997.
Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, who were assigned to study U.S. military bases, also face life sentences on the espionage conspiracy convictions.
Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez, who are not related, face up to 10 years in prison on charges of failing to register as foreign agents and conspiracy.
Five other indicted members of the group pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation and were given reduced sentences, Four others are fugitives believed to be in Cuba.