Let Terrorist Eduardo Arocena Go

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Arocena mounted a bizarre defense. He claimed the FBI had kidnapped and drugged him to obtain his taped confession. The phone calls to Wack had been fabricated and the arsenal in his Little Havana hideout had been planted by the government. Arocena, who had spoken fluent English while describing his life as Omar on tape and in phone calls to Wack, also claimed he could barely speak English and relied on an interpreter throughout the trial.

He repeatedly complained the government had erased his memory. "Under your direction, they are still putting drugs in my food. My mind is being destroyed," Arocena said from the stand. "They are trying to erase from me many things, because you don't want me to tell things here the way they are."

The jury convicted him on 25 counts — for Negrín and García's murders as well as 23 weapons charges. The judge sentenced him to consecutive life terms plus 35 years in prison. Even as Arocena denied every charge, he called the murder of the Cuban envoy justified: "If he is a Communist, according to my way of thinking, it is right that he was executed."

Asked about Negrín's murder in front of the man's son, Arocena said, "I don't think it should have been carried out that way. But I do think that if he was a Communist, he should have been executed anyway."

It's been 25 years since Miriam Arocena's husband was sentenced to life in the federal pen (he later received another 20 years from a judge in Miami for his bombings throughout the Magic City), and the indignities have been great for his slight, tanned wife. Only eight times in that quarter-century has she been able to afford trips to visit Eduardo. A few times a month, she gets five minutes on the phone with him.

He's been moved several times, but never closer than 500 miles from Miami. Today he lives in a new federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, more than 1,100 miles from his wife. The warden, Brian R. Jett, denied a request to speak with him, saying the interview would "jeopardize security and disturb the orderly running of the institution." Eduardo is now 65 years old and, according to his wife, struggling with diabetes and high blood pressure.

Miriam firmly asserts she knew nothing of her husband's anti-Castro violence. Mostly, she dismisses the question of his culpability. "I have been asked that many times, but let me tell you," she says, punctuating her next words with slaps on her kitchen table, "I don't know Omega 7.... I know Eduardo, I miss him, my children miss him."

(Remón, Arocena's right-hand man, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1986. After his release, he joined Luis Posada Carriles and two others in an attempt to assassinate Castro at a Panama summit meeting in 2000; he spent four years in prison there before gaining a pardon and returning to Miami in 2004.)

Richard Negrín takes a different view from Miriam. The 13-year-old who narrowly avoided the MAC-10 rounds that felled his father went on to live something of an American dream after that tragic fall day. "I really threw myself into football after my dad's murder, because otherwise I would have gone insane with anger," Richard says.

He was a talented player with a chip on his shoulder who ended up an All-American at Wagner College and played two years as a reserve for the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. He earned a law degree from Rutgers after his playing career ended and now works as the general counsel for Aramark, the Philadelphia-based corporate services giant.

He remembers taking the stand during the trial and describing his father's murder. "I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, and looked at him and told him what his group had done," Negrín says of Arocena. "I looked at him throughout and he sat there emotionless, with a cold, empty stare in his eyes."

So now he's unequivocal about the clemency petition.

"I think he's lucky to have a life in prison, because years later we have a 'kingpin law' where he would have faced the death penalty for orchestrating my dad's murder," Negrín says. "He was a clear and present danger to people of the United States. It was a rampage of violence that at the time was unprecedented in the United States."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink