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Hartford Wells Fargo Trial: 1988-89

Trial Focuses On Conspiracy

The trial began on September 6, 1988, in the federal courthouse in Hartford, Connecticut, with the selection of a jury. After several weeks, a jury of six women and six men had been drawn from Connecticut cities well removed from Hartford; even so, federal judge T. Emmett Claire announced that their names would not be made public to protect them from any possible threats or attacks. (The defense not unexpectedly objected to this and other security measures, claiming it prejudicially associated the defendants with violence.)

Finally on October 11, both sides made their opening statements. The government said it intended to prove that Gerena had been recruited by Los Macheteros to carry out the robbery so that the group could use the money to finance their activities, including acts of violence. Beyond that, the government said it would show that these particular individuals had to varying degrees actually aided in the planning of the robbery and the successful escape of Gerena and the transporting of the money. The defense, while admitting that some of them might be associated with Los Macheteros and even have been aware of aspects of the robbery, said they would show that their clients had no direct involvement in the robbery.

From the very first day of the trial, however, one of the defendants, Juan Segarra Palmer, emerged as the major player in this drama. He was thirty-eight years old, from a Puerto Rican family with a history of resistance to both Spanish and U.S. authorities, a Harvard graduate, and with a longtime and extensive commitment to leftist social and political causes. Segarra admitted freely that Gerena had discussed with him his intention to carry out the robbery and then had turned over most of the $7.1 million to him in Mexico City.

In fact, Segarra seemed almost to welcome the spotlight cast on him by the trial. He seemed anxious to promote the revolutionary goals of Los Macheteros (although it was soon revealed that he no longer belonged to the group—allegedly he was dismissed for being overly independent). Before the trial began, he had announced: "I don't recognize the legitimacy of the court or the whole proceeding. All I am guilty of is opposition to colonialism, which is a crime against humanity, like apartheid."

In the early weeks of the trial, when the government produced tapes of telephone calls between him and Gerena and members of Los Macheteros charged with being involved in the robbery, Segarra always had explanations that attempted to exonerate himself from direct involvement.

The most damaging witness, however, was Anne L. Gassin, also a Harvard graduate and Segarra's onetime girlfriend from his days of lying low in Cambridge after the robbery. She claimed that Segarra had not only hidden the stolen money in Massachusetts for over a year after the robbery, but that he had supervised Camacho, one of the other defendants, in the job of making secret compartments in a motor home so that the money could be taken to Mexico. She also freely admitted to having helped "launder" some of the money in Bostonarea banks.

Her most surprising testimony, however, was that Segarra had shown her a 60-page manuscript that he had written, setting forth some of the exact details of the robbery. She said that Segarra claimed it was going to be used as the basis for a film about the robbery. Segarra's attorney tried to shake her testimony:

Weinglass: You are putting together a screenplay and your discussion and you can't pull them apart.

Gassin: It's not mixed in together. I know what I read and I know what he told me.

The defense never mounted much of a case except to reiterate that there was little or no hard evidence linking any of the defendants to the robbery itself. Even the government's witness, a man who had allegedly sold Segarra the motorcycle that Gerena had then allegedly used to flee from Hartford into Massachusetts, could not pick Segarra out in the courtroom. As a result, after six months of trial (seven including jury selection), the jury returned on April 10, 1989, with a mixed bag of verdicts that allowed both sides to claim victory. Only Segarra was found guilty of the serious charge of planning the robbery; he, Maldonado and Ramirez were found guilty of conspiracy; and he and Camacho were found guilty of helping to transport the money.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Hartford Wells Fargo Trial: 1988-89 - The Perfect Crime?, Background To The Robbery, Trial Focuses On Conspiracy, Mystery And Controversy Linger On