SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A federal jury acquitted five Cuban exiles Wednesday of charges that they plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro.
The jury of eight women and four men delivered its verdict midway into its second day of deliberations. One juror said prosecutors failed to prove their allegation that the defendants conspired to kill Castro during a 1997 summit on Venezuela's Isla Margarita.
The decision elicited tears and defiance from the defendants, all of them anti-Castro activists, and cheers from their supporters at a crowded U.S. courthouse in San Juan. If convicted, the men could have faced life in prison.
Cleared of conspiracy charges were Jose Antonio Llamas, a director of the influential Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation; Angel Manuel Alfonso; Angel Hernandez Rojo; Francisco Secundino Cordova; and Jose Rodriguez Sosa.
The defendants fled Cuba after Castro's 1959 revolution. They now live in Florida and New Jersey.
Outside the courtroom, where the tearful defendants hugged one another and sang a Cuban anthem, Llamas said he and the others felt abandoned by the U.S. government.
Three of the accused men were on a yacht stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard off Puerto Rico on Oct. 27, 1997. The Coast Guard found sniper rifles, ammunition, night-vision goggles, radios and satellite navigation equipment.
Juror Amanda Collazo said panelists heeded prosecutors' pleas to stick to the evidence during deliberations--and concluded there wasn't enough of it.