MIAMI (AP) -- Moments after denouncing his trial as a "propaganda show," the leader of a Cuban spy ring received a life sentence for his role in the infiltration of U.S. military bases and in the deaths of four Cuban-Americans whose planes were gunned down five years ago.
Gerardo Hernandez, 36, was one of five secret agents convicted in June after a crackdown on spies operating inside the United States. The six-month trial focused on the two private planes that were shot down by Fidel Castro's government in 1996.
"This was a crime against America. The threat was to the country at large and to this community," said chief prosecutor Caroline Miller.
Before hearing his sentence Wednesday, Hernandez labeled his trial a "propaganda show" and blamed his prosecution on the political clout of Miami's Cuban exile community. He plans to appeal.
Ramon Labanino, a Cuban intelligence officer who supervised two agents assigned to infiltrate the U.S. Southern Command, was also expected to receive a life term for espionage conspiracy. His sentencing was set for Thursday.
Hernandez and Labanino were arrested following a 1998 indictment accusing Cuba of planting 14 agents in Miami.
The Cuban government has insisted the men were protecting their country from U.S.-based terrorism.
Paul McKenna, Hernandez's attorney, wasn't surprised by the life term.
"It's a big-league case, and you expect big-league sentences," he said.
Hernandez is the only spy who has been charged with and convicted of murder conspiracy in the attack on the planes in 1996.
Prosecutors accused Hernandez of knowing about the plot to shoot down the planes because he warned two agents who infiltrated the spy ring not to fly during a four-day period that included the day of the attack.
No evidence presented at trial, however, indicated that he knew Cuba would fire on the planes.
The fliers who were shot down were members of Brothers to the Rescue, which patrols the sea looking for Cuban refugees. The group had been warned by the U.S. and Cuban governments that its planes risked being shot down after two years of incursions in Cuban airspace.
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