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Hasenfus Will Ask Mercy of Court, Bell Says

November 04, 1986|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Eugene Hasenfus, the captured American accused of supplying arms to the U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua, will "throw himself on the mercy of the court" when his lawyer calls him to testify today, according to former U.S. Atty. Gen. Griffin Bell.

At a press conference here Monday, Bell urged the prosecution not to introduce as evidence a CBS "60 Minutes" interview with Hasenfus, and he charged that U.S. journalists were unethical for interviewing Hasenfus in the presence of Sandinista police and without an attorney present.

Bell did not make clear what objections he has to the "60 Minutes" interview, which was conducted by correspondent Mike Wallace, but he said the prosecution has enough evidence to convict Hasenfus without it.

"I think it's quite obvious he's going to be convicted," Bell said. "After all, he didn't fall out of the sky. He was on an airplane carrying guns."

Bell, who is advising Hasenfus' Nicaraguan lawyer, said the defense will emphasize the "mitigating circumstances" surrounding Hasenfus' role in the supply mission.

"Mitigation is a way of asking the government to treat him kindly, mercifully, compassionately," he said. "You have to give all of the facts and see if there is something that would show unusual circumstances--man out of a job, very low in the organization, a mere person who pushed things out of the plane. He had been trained to do this very job by our country in Vietnam."

Hasenfus, 45, an air cargo specialist, was shot down in a C-123 cargo plane carrying arms, ammunition and supplies to the rebels, the so-called contras who are fighting to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government. He is charged with terrorism, violation of a law on public order and security and illicit association for criminal purposes. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Hasenfus' attorney says he is not a terrorist.

Bell complained that he has never been allowed to confer with Hasenfus. He said he had wanted to talk with him about what laws he might plead guilty to having violated. Hasenfus is scheduled to testify this afternoon.

"As far as what we will plead to, that's up in the air, but he is throwing himself on the mercy of the court," Bell said.

Hasenfus has signed a statement confessing to arms trafficking in connection with 10 flights that originated in Honduras and El Salvador. He has also admitted his guilt to many U.S. journalists, including CBS' Wallace, and said he believed he was working for the CIA.

The Interior Ministry, which has custody of Hasenfus, granted the interviews to journalists on the condition that Sandinista officials, including one who spoke English, remain in the room. In most cases, the government taped the interviews.

Wallace was the first U.S. journalist to interview Hasenfus after his capture. The CBS interview is scheduled to be shown in court this morning.

Bell said that journalists had been "co-opted" by the Sandinista government.

"That was news at any cost," Bell said. "That is a complete abuse of the First Amendment. . . . Surely an American press person should not help the police of a country by going in and interviewing a prisoner and then giving a tape of the interview to the police."

Wallace said in a telephone interview from New York that about 15 Sandinista officials and policemen were present when he interviewed Hasenfus. He called Nicaragua "a police state" and said that to prevent the government from setting up a second camera, CBS agreed to turn over a copy of its tape of the interview.

Wallace said Hasenfus consented to the interview.

"Had I gotten Hasenfus off in a field somewhere, of course I wouldn't have turned the tape over to the government," he said. "The same is true in the United States."

He said he assumed that the Nicaraguan government would use the tape for propaganda purposes. Much of the interview was shown on Sandinista television, and a partial transcript was printed in a pro-Sandinista newspaper.

Wallace said Bell was frustrated at trying to defend a man who has confessed and whom he has not met. He called Bell's charges "disingenuous."

"First of all," he said, "the day after the Hasenfus interview aired, I got a call from Bell . . . (who) told me it was first-rate, and he was interested in what was revealed and wanted further information about Hasenfus, which I was pleased to do because he was defending him."

In the People's Tribunal where Hasenfus is on trial, a civil aeronautics investigator testified Monday about the flight logs captured with the plane. He said they showed that co-pilot Wallace B. Sawyer Jr. had made 240 flights to Central America, Europe, Africa and the United States. Hasenfus was listed on nine of those flights to Central America.

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