Radio Havana Cuba Interview with Paul McKenna, Gerardo Hernandez's lawyer 10th August 2005
Paul McKenna, who was born in Chicago in 1955, is the state appointed lawyer for Cuban Gerardo Hernandez. McKenna, who has been practicing law for nearly 25 years, is a partner in the Miami law firm McKenna and Obrant.
Gerardo Hernandez, along with a group of other Cubans, was arrested in Miami, Florida in September 1998 and after a 17 month spell in solitary confinement was tried and convicted of crimes against the security of the United States in a highly flawed legal process in the federal court in Miami. Hernandez was also accused of conspiracy to commit first degree murder for which he was serving a double life sentence plus fifteen years.
His co-defendants, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino and René Gonzalez, were also subjected to the same legal mistreatment before, during and after the trial.
The whole legal process up until now has been seen a complete miscarriage of justice as both legally and morally the men were innocent of the charges against them The only reason they were in Miami was to infiltrate the anti-Cuban terrorist groups that were carrying out acts of sabotage against Cuba with the support of successive US administrations.
As a result of an appeal that was lodged by the defense team in March 2004 to the 11th Circuit court of Appeals, Atlanta, a land-mark decision was handed down, August 9th this year, ordering a complete re-trial in a different venue.
Paul McKenna spoke by telephone to Bernie Dwyer, Radio Havana Cuba, August 10, from his office in Miami about his and his client's feelings after they heard the news about the appeal court's opinion. According to McKenna his client is an innocent man again.
"He is presumed innocent. All his convictions are vacated. They don't mean anything anymore".
McKenna is now going to fight for the right of Gerardo's wife, Adriana Perez, who has not seen her husband for seven year because of the US refusal to grant her a visa to enter the United States to make a prison visit, to come to Miami when Gerardo is moved back there to begin the legal process again.
[Bernie Dwyer (BD)]: This is really the most exciting news we have had about the case of the Five in seven years. How would you describe how you feel?
[Paul McKenna (PMK)]: Extremely excited and elated!! I have been a lawyer since 1982 and the greatest moment that I ever had was yesterday when I was able to call Gerardo Hernández at the prison where he is at and get him on the phone and tell him that we had won the appeal.
In my nearly 25 years of being an attorney that was my greatest moment.
[BD]: So you have actually spoken to Gerardo. Can you possibly get across to me his words and his reactions when he heard the news?
[PMK]: I have to tell you that he was very emotional. I have known him a long time and he never gets emotional but he was very emotional. It's understandable that he would be emotional.
The first question he asked me when I told him that his case had been reversed and sent back for a new trial was: "what about the others" and I told him not to worry that everyone's case has been reversed. As usual, the first thing that he thought about was other people and he told me that he was very much looking forward to talking to his wife, Adriana and telling her and talking to his mother and he thanked me. He asked me if I could mail him a copy of the decision. The final thing he said was "Paul, what next?" I said:" You know, we start all over again. Soon you will be coming back to Miami".
It was a short conversation because they don't normally allow conversations with lawyers like that and I had to call a counselor and make a special request. He was very, very emotional but very, very happy.
[BD]: Gerardo Hernandez has served seven years of his two life sentences plus fifteen years and during that time he has not been able to receive a visit from his wife Adriana. Is that going to change now?
[PMK]: I think the saddest part of Gerardo's case is that he has not seen his beautiful wife, Adriana, in seven years. I don't know a couple that is as devoted to each other or love each other as much as Gerardo and Adriana. They have a truly beautiful love. Adriana is such a strong person and she has been fighting for seven years to see her husband. She must be so happy with this news. And I am so happy for her.
And I think now that after seven years we have to re-dedicate ourselves to contact the highest people in the American government to just grant the basic humanitarian decency, the courtesy of allowing a wife to see her husband. That's a universal principle. It doesn't matter what country you are from, what religion or politics you have, that's a fundamental human right; a man can see his wife if he is in prison and we have to be able to get Adriana to come to the US now.
He is an innocent man again. He is presumed innocent. All his convictions are vacated. They don't mean anything anymore. As a free man, as an innocent man, as a man that is presumed not to have done any crime, he has a right to see his wife and we must contact the highest people in the US government to make this happen.
[BD]: Can you explain why it is that Adriana has not been able to go to visit Gerardo?
[PMK]: The government claims that at one point they thought that possibly Adriana might be linked to some of the acts charged. But she wasn't and now so much time has passed that they couldn't even charge her even if they wanted to.
In the United States, you can only be charged with a crime within five years of having committed it. And she didn't commit any crime in the first place but they haven't charged her with any crime either. They shouldn't be using these accusations of denying her entry into the United States. I'm going to contact them and I'm going to suggest that she should be allowed to come to Miami when he has returned here.
She could stay with me if she wants to. I'll take her to the jail. I'll take her for her visits and when the visits are over I will take her to the airport. She is a perfectly decent honorable human being who only wants to see Gerardo after seven long years. I'm going to everything I can to make sure that happens.
[BD]: Do you think that the decision that came down from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and now this huge opinion from the 11th Circuit can make this fail-safe inasmuch as the US government will not overturn this decision.
[PMK]: The United States government could never overturn this decision. The only group that could is the US Court of Appeals and their opinion is so strong and so long and so full of detail that I don't see any way that that decision will ever be changed. I'm not concerned about that.
I feel very strongly that the Court of Appeal's decision reversing and remanding the case for a new trial will stand. I feel very confident about that. However, having said that, we still have a long road ahead of us. We have been given a fresh start. We have been given a clean slate but we still have a huge adversary that we must defeat.
We have a long way to go in this case and it's going to take a lot of work, good lawyering, good strategies and we are going to have to rethink how we are going to do this case. I think that if we put our minds and our hearts to it, we can accomplish anything.
[BD]: And what about the role of the solidarity groups? How will they continue their campaign?
[PMK]: I think that what they have done has helped to keep the spirits of the Five alive, and whenever I see that, it spurs me on. That encourages me. Their contribution is enormous and I would ask them to keep doing what they are doing because it does have an impact. It has an impact on me.
It has an impact on my client to know that there are people who support us because I have got to tell you that there were a lot of dark and lonely days when it didn't seem like we would get to where we got to yesterday. But those people were reason to keep going and those people that gave all that support are people who will keep fighting and I hope that they will keep doing it.
This interview is for broadcast on Radio Havana Cuba on Friday 12th August 2005