August 27, 1999

U.S. judge in Miami delays Cuba spy case till 2000

MIAMI, Aug 26 (Reuters) - A federal judge has postponed until next May the trial of five men accused of spying for Cuba in Miami to give lawyers more time to prepare, a defence attorney said on Thursday.

The men were among 10 people arrested last September on charges they ran a sophisticated spy ring that targeted U.S. military installations and Cuban exile groups for Cuban President Fidel Castro's communist government.

Five alleged members of the spy ring pleaded guilty to lesser charges and will provide evidence against the others. Their sentences will not be imposed until after the trial.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on Wednesday postponed the trial to May 22 from Sept. 7 to allow defence lawyers more time to comb through classified documents. FBI agents have turned over more than 10,000 pages of documents.

``We need more time to prepare for trial,'' defence attorney Jack Blumenfeld said.

Prosecutors said the alleged spies tried to infiltrate the U.S. Southern Command, the U.S. military's Miami headquarters for the Southern Hemisphere, and planted an agent at the U.S. Navy's Boca Chica Naval Air Station near Key West.

Others joined Cuban exile groups opposed to the Castro government, including Brothers to the Rescue, the exile group at the centre of an international furore in February 1996 when Cuban military jets shot down two of its planes, killing four people.

The alleged leader of the spy ring, Gerardo Hernandez, was indicted in May on charges of conspiring to commit murder, the first criminal count filed in the plane downings.

15:49 08-26-99

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited