updated 12/14/2006 10:35:15 PM ET 2006-12-15T03:35:15

A judge awarded $400 million in damages Thursday to the family of an American who was tortured and then killed by a Cuban firing squad shortly after Fidel Castro took power.

The ruling by Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Thomas S. Wilson Jr. came after a default judgment was entered against Cuba in favor of the family of Robert Fuller, a plantation operator who died on Oct. 16, 1960. Cuba never answered or defended itself in the family's lawsuit.

"We have found justice and his death will be vindicated," said Jeannette Hausler, one of Fuller's sisters and former University of Miami law school dean of students.

Fuller's family members still face an uphill battle to attempt to actually collect any of the damages. Some similar lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar awards taken out of frozen Cuban assets in the United States, while others have had less success.

Attorney Alfonso Perez said the family would pursue every angle to attempt to collect the money, including going directly to banks and other institutions holding frozen Cuban assets. If the ailing Castro dies and the communist government of Cuba begins to open up, Perez said that could enable the family to eventually obtain its damages.

"Cuba will come to the table and have to deal with all the families that have suffered," Perez said.

Wilson found that Cuba, Castro and other senior Cuban officials were guilty of violating U.S. antitorture and extra-judicial killing laws in the death of Fuller, whose family had operated a 10,000-acre agricultural business in Cuba since 1903. Fuller, who had dual Cuban and U.S. citizenship, was born on the plantation in 1934.

15-minute trial
After Castro's revolutionary forces seized power in Havana in 1959, the new regime "repeatedly harassed and threatened" members of the Fuller family and sought to seize their assets, according to court records. Finally in October 1960, after a visit to Miami, Fuller was arrested and charged with "counterrevolutionary activities" by Castro agents.

He was tortured until he confessed and, following a 15-minute trial in front of jeering crowds, was executed by firing squad and his body dumped in an unmarked ditch, according to court records. The location of the body was never disclosed to family members.

In past cases, the families of three U.S. fliers killed when their planes were shot down by a Cuban MiG in 1996 were able to recover $97 million in Cuban funds from frozen U.S. accounts. Last month, $91 million in frozen Cuban assets were turned over to the families of two men executed after the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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