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Texas jury acquits anti-Castro Cuban exile of lying to officials

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Luis Posada Carriles was cleared on 11 counts
  • Jurors deliberated for three hours
  • Witnesses say they are not surprised by the verdict
  • Cuba accuses Posada of blowing up a commercial airliner and other terror acts

(CNN) -- A jury in El Paso, Texas, found Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles not guilty Friday of lying to U.S. immigration officials, according to Mike Maiella with the U.S. District Court.

Posada was charged with 11 counts of lying to officials about how he entered the United States in 2005 and his alleged involvement in attacks on Cuba. If convicted, he would have faced between five and eights years in prison.

"I'm not surprised at all," Otto Reich, a defense witness and former diplomat, told CNN. He said the government did not present a good case.

Journalist Ann Louise Bardach, the prosecution's lead witness who spent six days on the stand, also said the government failed to do a good job.

"I'm not too surprised because of the way the case was handled," she said about the verdict.

Maiella said jurors deliberated for about three hours.

Posada is accused by the Cuban government of blowing up a commercial airliner, masterminding a bombing campaign of Havana tourist attractions and attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In 2005, he was arrested by Homeland Security agents after giving a press conference in Miami in which he denied involvement in the 1976 airline bombing or targeting civilians in his war against the Cuban government.

Initially he was charged with entering the United States illegally, but federal prosecutors later indicted Posada for lying to immigration officials about his alleged involvement in a series of bombings in Havana in 1997.

In 1998, Posada admitted to The New York Times' Bardach that he had dispatched a group of operatives to Cuba to set off bombs in hotels and restaurants in the hope of ruining the island's tourism industry. An Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, was killed in one of the blasts.

"It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop," Posada told the newspaper. "That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Asked if he felt remorse, Posada told the paper, "I sleep like a baby."

Several of those operatives were captured in Cuba and implicated Posada during their trials, according to Cuban government media reports and video, shown on the island, of the men's testimony.

In court filings, Posada's attorneys argued that his English was too poor to understand the reporter's questions.

Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, is a staunch ally of Cuba, continues to seek Posada's extradition in the airliner bombing case. So far, U.S. courts have declined to extradite Posada, citing his fear of being tortured in Venezuela.

The bomb exploded shortly after Cubana Flight 455 took off from Barbados, killing all 73 passengers and crew aboard.

After the crash, Posada was arrested and tried in Venezuela, where he had worked for the country's intelligence services. While awaiting trial he escaped from jail.

CNN's Arthur Brice and Dave Alsup contribued to this report.