SANTA FE – Charlie Hill, the fugitive wanted in a New Mexico cop-killing who’s been living in Cuba since hijacking a plane from the Albuquerque airport with two accomplices in 1971, now is said to have a lawyer – Santa Fe civil rights attorney Jason Flores-Williams.
Flores-Williams issued a statement Wednesday saying that Hill is his client. In an interview, Flores-Williams said he has a signed retainer agreement to represent Hill and that an associate will travel to Cuba in April and “work on the case face to face.”
Flores-Williams also said a letter has been sent to the Cuban government asking if the government will pay for Hill’s defense. “On behalf of Charlie, we intend to bend the arc of justice toward truth,” Flores-Williams said in his emailed announcement.
Hill, he said, is a black man “who insisted on being treated with dignity during a dark time in American history” and the fatal shooting he’s wanted for should be considered in the context of “social history” and racism. In 1971, Hill was a member of a black separatist group known as Republic of New Afrika. Flores-Williams said he made the connection with Hill through an acquaintance with the Al Jazeera television network who went to Cuba.
In December, President Barack Obama announced plans to take steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba, and questions quickly were raised about whether Cuba would begin extraditing American fugitives.
Gov. Susana Martinez wrote to federal officials asking that the Obama administration push for Hill’s return and help “bring a cop killer to justice.”
So far, Cuban officials have not responded positively to the idea of extradition of American fugitives. Flores-Williams said his legal services will be needed if Hill indeed needs to fight extradition or ever decides he wants to return to the United States. “We feel that the state has already conducted the trial and convicted him in absentia,” he said.
The Governor’s Office provided a statement later saying Martinez “is focused on bringing this long-time fugitive, accused of gunning down a State Police officer, back to New Mexico to face trial and give a jury the opportunity to decide his guilt based on the facts of the case.
“Chief among these facts are that, following the murder of Officer (Robert) Rosenbloom, Hill and his accomplices allegedly hijacked a commercial airplane at the Albuquerque Sunport and fled to Cuba where he has escaped justice for more than 43 years.”
Martinez’s staff also provided a copy of a letter from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, responding to the governor’s December letter about Hill. Kerry said the State Department has “repeatedly pressed Cuba for the return of fugitives” and that “we hope re-establishing diplomatic relations will allow us to more effectively press Cuba on this and other important interests.”
Flores-Williams maintained “we don’t know what happened” the night Nov. 8, 1971, when State Police patrolman Rosenbloom was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque.
After the confrontation that left Rosenbloom fatally wounded, three suspects – Hill, Michael Finney and Ralph Goodwin – hid out for three weeks. Then they carjacked a wrecker truck in Albuquerque at gunpoint and forced the driver to take them to the tarmac of the airport.
On Nov. 27, they hijacked a Trans World Airlines flight and gained political asylum in Cuba. The two other fugitives have since died.
KRQE reporter Larry Barker has said that Hill, in a 1999 interview, admitted killing Rosenbloom and said the officer “got what he deserved.” Flores-Williams said Wednesday that “we don’t know if Hill admitted” he killed Rosenbloom.
In other interviews with American news organizations, Hill has stopped short of acknowledging he shot Rosenbloom. In a 1999 Washington Post article, for instance, he wouldn’t disclose who pulled the trigger, but claimed it was self-defense and that he had no remorse about the officer’s death. Other articles say Hill became priest in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria and enjoys following American sports on the radio
In the recent Al Jazeera piece, Hill, 65, said he doesn’t consider himself a criminal. “As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t commit a crime. My thing was totally political,” he said.
“It’s a shame when a life is taken, no matter what the reason is,” Hill told Al Jazeera. “Nobody has the right to take another life – only in self defense. And that I do regret. But what can I say? If a cop pulled a gun on me, I shoot first.” Asked what he would tell the slain officer’s family, Hill said: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Flores-Williams also said he wants to raise concerns about bounty hunters, with travel restrictions lifting, going to Cuba and seeking to capture American fugitives, which he said would be illegal kidnapping.
The FBI and New Jersey are offering $2 million for information leading to the capture of Assata Shakur, previously known as Joanne Chesimard. She escaped prison in 1979 and made her way to Cuba after being convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper.