BY JOHN STUDER AND PATTIE THOMPSON
CHICAGO - Federal prosecutors finished presenting their case in the frame-up trial of Puerto Rican independence activist José Solís Jordán here March 8. Solís faces four charges in connection with the placing of two bombs outside a military recruitment center. The maximum sentence, if convicted on all 4 counts, is 55 years in prison and $800,000 in fines.
Between 30 and 70 people attended the trial each day since it opened February 25, with the big majority supporting Solís. In an effort to create an atmosphere of intimidation. Each person entering the courtroom has to pass through a special metal detector staffed by federal deputy marshals, who hand search every bag.
The government's central witness is Rafael Marrero, a paid FBI collaborator. Marrero testified that he built the bombs and placed one at the door of the military recruiting center in Chicago on the night of Dec. 10, 1992. He claims that Solís and two others - Eddie Brooks and Diana Vásquez - conspired with him to carry out these acts.
On the witness stand Marrero itemized $119,000 he received from the FBI in the last three and a half years. He claimed that in 1992 he was recruited to a "secret cell" whose purpose was to commit violent acts to win the independence of Puerto Rico.
The prosecution presented no material evidence for Marrero's story that the "conspirators" met to plan the bombing, built experimental explosive devices in Solís's kitchen, tested them, drove around together to scope out various potential targets, and carried out together the attempted bombing.
Brooks, who had been named by Marrero, was questioned by the FBI in 1996. In this FBI report he said only he and Marrero had driven around to look at targets. When the state called him to the stand in the trial he changed his story and backed up Marrero's charge involving Solís. Under cross- examination by the defense he was unable to provide dates, or names, or clarify discrepancies in his testimony. He claimed memory lapses.
The only piece of "evidence" presented by the government to link Solís to the attempted bombing is a tape recording made by Marrero when he wore a concealed wire fitted by the FBI to dinner with Solís and his wife in a restaurant in Puerto Rico on Jan. 28, 1997. About 10 minutes, allegedly from that tape, were played in the courtroom. A written "translation" prepared by the prosecution was provided to the jurors.
The voices are mostly unintelligible. What can be heard on the tape is mostly in Spanish, while the jury is English- speaking.
The audible portions consist of a series of vague references that Marrero claims show an attempt to cover their trail following the bombing. Government translator Roberto Mendoza admitted he had checked the translation by working from an English "transcript" he had been given from an unknown source against the tape. A translation based on an actual spanish transcript of the tape had not been done, he said, because it would cost too much time and money.
The final piece of evidence submitted was an unsigned document prosecutors repeatedly referred to as a "confession." It is a summary by FBI agent William Matthews of what he claims Solís said the day he was arrested, Nov. 6, 1997. That morning, well over a dozen heavily armed FBI agents surrounded his home in a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The cops transported him to a U.S. government building where he was interrogated for more than five hours before he was allowed to speak to his lawyer. The cops did not inform Solís of his counsel's presence in the building until two and a half hours after the lawyers' arrival. Matthews testified that during this process he never asked Solís to write down anything, or look at Matthews's supposed summary.
Assessing the prosecution's case, Solís's lawyer, Jed Stone noted, "We got Marrero to say 14 times on the stand that he was a liar."
The Casa Cultural at the University of Illinois in Champaign sponsored a meeting for Solís March 6 attended by over 70 people. He was also interviewed by the Latino radio station and the university radio station. Groups of students are now planning to make the several-hour trip up to Chicago to attend the trial this week, and students, professors and local church organizations have begun fund-raising activities.
Contributions to the Solís defense campaign can be sent to José Solís Jordán Defense Fund, c/o The Law Offices of Jed Stone, 434 W. Ontario, Suite 400 Chicago, IL 60610.
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