Defiant to the end, a Harvard-educated Puerto Rican nationalist raised his fist and shouted "Puerto Rico Libre" after he was sentenced to 65 years in prison and fined $500,000.
Juan Segarra Palmer, who has already spent almost three years in jail awaiting trial on charges of masterminding a $7.1 million robbery at a Wells Fargo depot, expressed no remorse during a politically charged, 27-minute speech before U.S. District Judge T. Emmet Clarie on Thursday."My conscience is clear," he told the judge. "In my limited capacity I tried to bring about change."
The 39-year-old Segarra, who had faced up to 165 years in prison, was convicted with three other Puerto Rican nationalists in April in the 1983 theft of a half-ton of money from the armored-car company's depot in West Hartford.
Only $80,000 has been recovered from what is believed to be the second-largest cash heist in U.S. history.
After Clarie announced the sentence, Segarra turned to supporters in the packed courtroom and shouted the separatist slogan. About two dozen spectators responded with shouts of encouragement as Segarra was led from the courtroom.
Before his sentencing, Segarra denounced U.S. policy and pledged to continue fighting for Puerto Rican independence.
"I will keep my eyes on the prize because no price is too high to pay for freedom, justice and the dignity of the people," he said.
The judge replied: "Common crimes do not become political crimes simply because the criminal is a would-be politician."
Clarie also denied Segarra's charge that democracy is a sham in Puerto Rico and that the island is little more than a U.S. colony. The judge pointed to a recent referendum in which only 3 percent of Puerto Rican voters supported independence from the United States.
Segarra, convicted of charges including robbery, transportation of stolen money and conspiracy, denied he helped plan the Wells Fargo robbery, as the prosecution alleged.
But he has acknowledged that he knew about the robbery in advance and said he received the stolen money to finance the activities of Los Macheteros, Spanish for "the machete wielders," a militant Puerto Rican separatist group.
He and other defendants have said the government prosecuted them because of their political beliefs.