Noriega Becomes Born-Again Christian In His Jail Cell

MIAMI - Manuel Noriega has become a born-again Christian in his jail cell and says he has repented of his ``illusions of grandeur.''

Defense attorney Frank Rubino said yesterday that the fallen Panamanian dictator, though nominally a Roman Catholic, reads the Bible with two Texas evangelists who have become his spiritual advisers.

An article today in the religious publication Florida Baptist Witness quotes letters from Noriega about his conversion.

``I received Jesus Christ as my savior the 15th of May of 1990 at 11 a.m. in a small room, like unto a cave, in the Metropolitan Correctional Center of Dade County, Fla.,'' he wrote in Spanish, according to the Baptist publication.

``Before Christ came into my life, the realities of the materialistic world had the priority in my daily living,'' Noriega wrote. He said he suffered from ``illusions of grandeur and a heart hardened to the gospel.''

Diane Cossin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said Noriega's religious commitment ``is his personal business'' and it would not affect his trial in June on drug-trafficking charges.

``Sin is endemic in the trafficking of illegal narcotics, and our criminal laws are built on the belief that persons are responsible for their acts,'' she said.

The two evangelists, Clift Brannon and Rudy Hernandez, have been visiting Noriega in jail, Rubino said.

They said they had written Noriega after reading he had

surrendered to U.S. troops in January 1990 with just a toothbrush and a Bible given to him in the Papal Nuncio in Panama City, where he was sheltered after the U.S. invasion.

Noriega faces 145 years in prison if convicted on the drug charges.