Colombian scores second hung jury

The most recent trial in Washington, D.C., of Ricardo Palmera, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ended in a hung jury on Oct. 4.

Palmera, 57, was extradited to the U.S. in 2004. Denied visitors or a lawyer of his choice, he has faced a variety of charges during his three years of solitary confinement. This time he was charged with conspiracy to export drugs to the United States.

The charge of drug trafficking has been a common way of trying to discredit the FARC, a four-decades-old guerilla movement whose declared aims include defending the country’s rural poor, opposing foreign exploitation and establishing a more just society.

After listening to the prosecution’s case against Palmera for four weeks, Kimi Johnson, one of seven jurors refusing to convict Palmera, reportedly asked herself: “My God, is that all they have?

“He was a political adviser of the group,” she said. “His responsibilities were political, not drug trafficking.”

Federal prosecutors indicated they would retry the FARC leader, a former professor and high-level negotiator in prisoner exchanges, in March 2008. Palmera’s supporters criticized Judge Royce Lambert for declaring a mistrial rather than declaring the FARC leader innocent.

A trial of Palmera staged in November 2006 also ended without a verdict as jurors, impressed with a paucity of evidence against Palmera and his compelling exposition of the FARC’s social aims, refused to convict him for “conspiracy to take hostages.” Those charges stemmed from the FARC’s capture of three U.S. mercenaries whose plane was shot down over a remote jungle area in Colombia in 2003, something Palmera had nothing to do with.

The prosecution and trials of Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad, have been marred by multiple irregularities. His second trial, set for March of this year, was called off when the judge was found to have authorized prosecution interviews of jurors after the first trial without informing defense lawyers. A subsequent trial, which took place in July under a replacement judge (Lambert), resulted in Palmera’s conviction of “conspiracy,” but not terrorism, which U.S. prosecutors had sought.

atwhit @megalink.net