WASHINGTON – The man accused of killing a New Mexico State Police officer before hijacking a plane to Cuba more than 40 years ago says he’s homesick.
And his return would be just fine with state law enforcement authorities, who say they are ready to prosecute him for murder.
“I miss my country,” the Illinois native told CNN. “I miss my family. I would like to go back and see where my grandparents were born, where I was born, where I went to junior high. Eat some blackberry pie. Even go to McDonald’s. That’s only natural.”
Charlie Hill, an elusive fugitive wanted for murder in the 1971 death of New Mexico State patrolman Robert Rosenbloom, talked to a CNN reporter who tracked him down in Havana this week.
Hill told CNN’s Patrick Oppmann that, while in Cuba, he married, fathered two children and got divorced.
Hill’s return would likely not be as enjoyable as he imagines.
Gov. Susana Martinez has asked the Obama administration to pursue Hill’s extradition so he can stand trial for Rosenbloom’s murder. Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have called for Hill’s extradition, as well.
So far, the Castro regime, which has granted Hill asylum, has refused the request. But as the Obama administration seeks to normalize relations with the isolated communist country, fugitives like Hill could be a bargaining chip.
The State Department this week recommended that President Obama remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, a move that would free up economic opportunities in the impoverished country. A formal announcement of such a decision could come this weekend as Obama meets with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.
The 1971 shooting in which Hill is accused occurred during a traffic stop on a stretch of Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque known as Nine Mile Hill on Nov. 8. Hill and his two accomplices – Michael Finney and Ralph Goodwin (both now deceased) – belonged to a black militant separatist group known as Republic of New Afrika. They were headed east from California with a car loaded with weapons for the movement.
After the bloody confrontation with Rosenbloom, the men hid out in the mountains for nearly three weeks. Then they carjacked a wrecker truck in Albuquerque’s Southeast Heights at gunpoint and forced the driver to take them to the tarmac of the Albuquerque airport.
Early in the morning of Nov. 27, they hijacked Trans World Airlines Flight 106. The Boeing 727 flew to Tampa, where passengers were allowed to exit, and then on to Cuba, where then-President Fidel Castro and the Cuban government gave the suspected killers political asylum.
Hill said that, when he arrived in Cuba, the Castro regime denied his request for military training to fight with revolutionary groups in Africa, and instead put him to work cutting sugar cane, doing construction and working in a clothing store.
Today, Hill said he spends his time smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking too much cheap rum. Oppmann first met with Hill in a dark, smoky Havana bar and then moved the interview outdoors. The bald, bespectacled Hill wore a T-shirt and loose fitting pants, and seemed a bit wistful for his home country, if defiant about the reasons he left.
Hill admitted to Oppmann that he was in the sedan that Rosenbloom pulled over that fateful night in Albuquerque, but he grew reticent when asked about his role.
“I don’t particularly want to get into those details,” he said.
Then, when Oppmann asked him point blank if he is a cop-killer, Hill denied it.
“I am not a cop killer. I am a freedom fighter,” Hill said. “I am a Vietnam vet and people never ask me if I killed Vietnamese because that was authorized by the American government. I dedicated myself to liberating my people.”
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told the Journal in December that State Police officers have painstakingly crafted a case against Hill that is ready for prosecution.
“The coward that he (Hill) is, he fled the U.S., but we have never forgotten,” Kassetas said. “I realize that Cuba, as a government, has every right to provide asylum. But the reality is that Charlie Hill has never faced a judge and a jury. It’s frustrating that he’s 90 miles off the coast of the U.S. He’s so close, yet so far away.”
Hill told CNN he wants to see his daughter in the United States, who was 6 years old when he fled to Cuba, as well as five grandchildren.
He has hired Santa Fe attorney Jason Flores-Williams to represent him. Last month, Flores-Williams filed a motion in federal court asking that the charges against his client be dropped because Gov. Martinez’s comments alleging he is a “cop-killer” could prejudice a jury.
Hill suggested that, even if Cuba doesn’t allow for his extradition, he might surrender to the U.S. on his own. And if they do turn him over to U.S. authorities, that’s OK, too, he said.
“They took me in,” he said of Cuba. “If the Cuban government feels me going is for the benefit of 12 million people, that’s my sacrifice. I don’t worry about that.”