Murdered in Havana

After the Catholic Church banished him, Cuba welcomed him. But the vibrant new life George Zirwas created for himself soon ended in tragic death.

The first of Medina's two automatic appeals was heard in June 2002. This time there was no argument: The execution was called off and his sentence changed to 45 years. The ruling was upheld at a final hearing in August or September, but apparently only Medina and his family were aware of his reversal of fortune. It wasn't until this past October, when Ulises went to court to petition for the return of his possessions, that a clerk confirmed the commutation.

"It's final. The judge told me there was nothing I could do about it," he murmurs, recalling the same powerlessness he felt right after George died, when the police seemed to discount his sorrow because it was over another man. He wanted to scream at them, he admits, try to make them understand his and George's relationship was as real as anything between a man and woman. If the killer had died for his crimes, Ulises believes, it would be some kind of acknowledgement, maybe a validation, of their life together. But he has given up that hope.

Ulises does maintain another hope, though. Less than a year before he died, Zirwas created a will (filed in Pittsburgh) in which he bequeathed to Ulises the considerable sum of $15,000. But neither man apparently was aware that, because of the embargo, the money would not be released to Ulises as long as he lived in Cuba.

Someday, Ulises vows, he will find a way to get out of Cuba and recover the money. No way he'll let that stroke of luck slip past him. He'll make sure his mother is well taken care of, even if he isn't allowed back home. The money could change his life, and that may end up being the only lasting legacy of George Zirwas' short, happy time in Wonderland.

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