The Witness From María Elvira, Live!
By José Pertierra, April 6, 2011.
The María Elvira, Live! show came to El Paso this week. Luis Posada Carriles’ defense attorney turned the federal trial into a television talk show. The defense called Roberto Hernández del Llano as a star witness in an attempt to impeach the previous testimony of Cuban investigator Roberto Hernández Caballero, who had inspected the bombing scenes in Havana in 1997.
Hernández del Llano is one of María Elvira’s favorite guests. He is an habitué of television talk shows, where he holds forth on the personal lives of Fidel Castro, his wife and their children. He never offers any proof of what he says. He simply declares his assertions are true, so they can spread like wildfire in Miami’s Little Havana. Hernández del Llano tried to do the same here in El Paso.
Cuba on trial (again)
Before the witness testified, prosecutor Jerome Teresinski objected without success to Judge Kathleen Cardone. He reminded the judge that she had previously ruled that she would not allow Cuba to be put on trial. “This case is about the crimes of Luis Posada Carriles. It is not about Cuba,” he said.
The judge only partially agreed and said, “I have decided that the government of Cuba is not being tried here, but I will allow the witness to testify. As the questioning proceeds, you may object to the question, and I will decide if I will allow a response.”
Knowing that even an elephant can fit through the eye of the legal loophole the judge had just left open, Teresinski repeated his objection. “Your Honor, I don’t want to appear to quibble …”
“Hah!” bellowed the defense attorney from counsel table with a loud laugh.
Teresinski became livid. Without finishing his sentence, he said to the judge: “I see nothing funny here. His [the defense attorney’s] laughter is stunning. It is a lack of professionalism.”
The judge tried to placate him, but Teresinski continued to stew for the rest of the day. Each question that the defense attorney directed at the witness met a forceful objection from Teresinski.
The judge overruled nearly all of them, and Hernández del Llano was able to make under oath and in federal court the kinds of outrageous statements that have established his reputation as a provoking television personality on the María Elvira, Live!
The witness’ colorful declarations
He said that Roberto Hernández Caballero, the Cuban investigator who testified last month in El Paso, had personally tortured him in April 2005 at the Villa Marista prison in Cuba. He offered no details. He simply mentioned it.
The witness did not explain why he had never said this in any of his many television appearances on María Elvira, Live! Such a declaration would certainly have boosted the ratings, gotten him a raise and turned him into a hero in Miami’s Little Havana.
Hernández del Llano told the jurors that he had been a major in Cuba’s Interior Ministry (MININT), but that he resigned more than 20 years ago. He said he defected in 2007 and now lives–where else?–in Miami.
He declared that in 2003, two MININT counter-intelligence agents tried to re-recruit him. “The work that they wanted me to do involved a friend of mine and a relative, and so I refused,” he said. “Did you suffer any consequences?” asked attorney Arturo Hernández. “Yes. They threatened me and shortly thereafter, troops from Villa Marista invaded the home of my brother Pedro Hernández del Valle and evicted his family,” answered Hernández del Llano.
The direct examination of the witness sounded like blues in H flat: attorney Hernández asking Roberto Hernández about Roberto Hernández.
Roberto Hernández del Llano told attorney Hernández that Roberto Hernández Caballero was the one responsible for his arrest in 2005. “Since January of 2003, Hernández has directed an entire repressive operation against me,” said Hernández del Llano. “He tortured me physically and beat me.”
At that the judge called a recess. Maybe she wanted to sort out the Hernándezes. But also she had a number of pending matters she wanted to resolve. She has several other cases on her docket besides this one, and there were a dozen criminal defense attorneys in the courtroom (their clients in the court’s holding cell) waiting for sentencing hearings.
Arturo Hernández is not finished with his direct examination, and the prosecutor’s cross-examination of Roberto Hernández del Llano is still to come. The Government has access to the witness’ records, which includes his 2007 application for asylum. It also has access to FBI records regarding the witness and can ask Cuba for its records, assuming that the witness was actually a prisoner there.
The defense’s medical expert
Yesterday a pathologist hired by attorney Hernández also testified: Dr. Ronald K. Wright. He came to El Paso looking like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Colonel Sanders, in a white suit and a bow tie. With a strong southern accent, he stated that he has testified in 520 cases, 178 of which were criminal cases.
With the exception of about six cases, he has always testified for the defense. “It’s because the prosecutors have cornered the market on forensic pathologists,” he said. He testified that Posada Carriles paid him $4,500 for his testimony. If we counted only the criminal cases in which he testified and multiply them by the $4,500 he was paid for this one, Dr. Wright would have earned more than $800,000 for his testimony over the years. Not a bad gig.
Defense attorney Rhonda Anderson questioned Dr. Wright, and he testified that the shrapnel that struck the throat of Fabio Di Celmo was not the cause of death. The thirty-two-year-old Italian businessman died, said Dr. Wright, because of inadequate medical attention by the Cubans.
“If I’d been there, he wouldn’t have died,” the doctor said brimming with confidence. Of course, the Miami-based doctor did not explain how he could be so sure that if he’d been at the side of Di Celmo he could have avoided the shrapnel that fatally wounded the decedent.
“You just needed to hold down the bleeding by putting something on it. It’s a very simple procedure,” he declared. Lifting both arms in the air and moving his fingers around, the doctor said to the jurors. “Fingers, fingers, fingers. It’s quite simple. If somebody had used his fingers, Di Celmo could have survived for several hours.”
The vainer the witness, the easier the cross-examination. Prosecutor Timothy J. Reardon quickly managed to get the witness to admit that Fabio Di Celmo died due to a severe hemorrhage.
“Mr. Di Celmo died, isn’t that true?” he asked.
Upon hearing the witness’ affirmation, he said, “You weren’t there, isn’t that true?”
“Correct,” answered the doctor.
“Are you saying that Di Celmo did not bleed to death?” Reardon snapped.
Dr. Wright hesitated and finally said, “Well, yes. But it didn’t have to happen.”
“It didn’t have to happen, because you would have known how to attend to him immediately with your fingers?” the prosecutor asked with obvious disdain.
Reardon didn’t wait for an answer. He pivoted away from the witness and walked to the prosecutor’s table saying, “I have no further questions.”
José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles. Translated by Machetera and Manuel Talens. They are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity.
Spanish language version.
See also: El Paso Diary: Day 38 of the Posada Carriles Trial: The Sound and Fury of Otto Reich, 05 April 2011.