The woman on the witness stand was an adulterous Russian emigre and a convicted Soviet spy who had suddenly changed her story--proclaiming the innocence of former FBI Agent Richard W. Miller.
She was also the same woman who had allegedly told the FBI she was both the daughter and the lover of former Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov and once told Miller she was a major in the Soviet KGB.
On one occasion, she supposedly claimed to be a French movie actress living in a Bel-Air mansion, instead of the wife of an immigrant meatpacker residing in a West Hollywood apartment.
In her own trial, Svetlana Ogorodnikova was portrayed by her lawyers as an emotionally troubled alcoholic with an IQ of 74. The prosecutors called her a manipulative, low-level Soviet agent, unhappy with her life in the United States.
Only last week she volunteered a damaging self-assessment: The FBI had driven her “crazy.”
Credibility in Doubt
To lawyers on both sides in the espionage retrial of former FBI Agent Richard W. Miller, the question that overshadowed both the dramatic new version she told about Miller last week and the stories she told before was whether an American jury would believe anything she said.
Ogorodnikova, who pleaded guilty last year to “unlawfully” conspiring with Miller to pass secret documents to the Soviet Union, now claims that she was not a Soviet agent and that Miller never intended to betray his country.
On the witness stand last week, Ogorodnikova portrayed herself as a victimized “martyr” who was exploited by the FBI. This week, she will finish her story for the jury, and the prosecution will present its own perspective as it cross-examines her.
Ogorodnikova’s claims of Miller’s innocence were first made last week in private to the judge and lawyers, then disclosed to the public on Friday. The jury itself will not hear Ogorodnikova’s full story until the resumption of her testimony.
If the jury believes Ogorodnikova’s testimony, Miller’s chances of being acquitted as the first FBI agent ever charged with espionage are greatly increased. But lawyers on both sides view her credibility problem with the jury as serious.
Ogorodnikova, 35, barely five feet tall, seemed a tiny figure in the courtroom as she testified last week between secret meetings with U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon and her lawyers about her decision to recant a confession that led Kenyon to sentence her to 18 years in prison last June.
A woman with plain features whose appearance changes dramatically depending on the clothes and makeup she wears, Ogorodnikova wore her hair short and dressed in the same simple khaki pants outfit throughout her testimony last week.
Sometimes appearing close to tears, sighing sadly one minute and smiling the next, the blonde, blue-eyed Russian immigrant presented an image of vulnerability as she also lived up to her reputation for dramatic flair, triggering almost instant chaos in the courtroom.
As a result of the behind-the-scenes action in her first four days as a witness, Ogorodnikova’s own lawyers were almost taken off the case, one of Miller’s lawyers, Stanley Greenberg, was suddenly threatened with a jail term for contempt of court, and Kenyon was kept busy scurrying through his lawbooks trying to maintain order in the trial.
Overflow Crowd at Trial
A courtroom that had been virtually deserted since the start of the Miller retrial in February--his first trial ended in a deadlocked jury last November--was suddenly packed with an overflow crowd.
“I feel sorry for her,” one courtroom spectator said. “I think she’s telling the truth. But I don’t know if the jury will believe her.”
Before Ogorodnikova took the stand, the prosecution tried to block her from testifying, saying that her testimony was irrelevant and would “confuse and mislead the jury.” Kenyon decided to grant her immunity to testify in the “interest of justice,” saying that the trial was a search for truth and that her testimony should be heard.
Ogorodnikova’s impact on the jury as she told the first portions of her testimony remained a mystery. Most jurors showed little emotion as they listened, and some avoided looking directly at her. There was no visible trace of sympathy, but there was one sign of disbelief by one juror who rolled her eyes skeptically as the Russian emigre testified.
Ogorodnikova herself told Kenyon she doubted that the jury or anyone else would believe her story that neither she nor Miller had any intentions to hurt the United States, but were actually working together for the FBI in an effort directed against the Soviet Union.
‘My Life Is Finished’
“My life is finished,” she told Kenyon. “I am Russian. And the jury will never believe me, and that’s the truth. . . . Nobody maybe would believe me.”
Although Ogorodnikova disclosed last week that she intends to essentially support Miller in her testimony, she began her testimony with an all-out attack on FBI counterintelligence Agent John Hunt, alleging that he was her lover in 1982 before she met Miller and began a sexual relationship with him two years later.
Ogorodnikova said that Hunt, who has retired from the FBI and has denied the sexual allegations in previous testimony for the prosecution, frequently came to her West Hollywood apartment for breakfast, lunch and sex while her husband, Nikolai, was at work during the day as a meatpacker.
Nikolai Ogorodnikov, 53, was arrested with his wife and Miller on Oct. 2, 1984, and also pleaded guilty to espionage conspiracy last June, receiving an eight-year prison sentence. He has since asked to withdraw his guilty plea, a motion that will be heard by Kenyon after the Miller retrial.
In her most damaging statements against Hunt, Ogorodnikova testified that she had an abortion in 1983, telling the jury that Hunt took her to the doctor because, “He was my man.” She said Hunt paid for the abortion, but she did not specifically allege that Hunt was the father of her unborn child.
Cast Self as Devoted Wife
In describing her relationship with Hunt--testimony that may come under strong attack when the prosecution begins its cross-examination--the Russian emigre portrayed herself as a devoted wife and mother who was “amazed” to discover that she had become sexually involved with another man.
Proceeding to her first meetings with Miller in May, 1984, Ogorodnikova disputed Miller’s testimony at her trial that she had initiated the contact, saying Miller called her first. After that, however, she supported most of the defense case by testifying that Miller was intent from the beginning on recruiting her to help the FBI.
Ogorodnikova’s testimony stopped Friday before a crucial period in August, 1984, when Ogorodnikova and Miller traveled together to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco. In statements to the FBI before his arrest, Miller told several agents that he had passed a secret FBI document to Ogorodnikova to relay to Soviet intelligence officials.
While Miller has claimed he was trying to salvage his FBI career by becoming the first agent to infiltrate the Soviet KGB, he testified under a grant of immunity in Ogorodnikova’s trial that she had attempted to recruit him for Soviet intelligence, agreeing to pay him $50,000 in gold and another $15,000 in cash to deliver documents to the Soviets in San Francisco and Eastern Europe.
There is no indication yet what Ogorodnikova plans to say about her trip with Miller or a series of telephone calls with a Soviet KGB Agent, Aleksandr Grishin, which were monitored by the FBI in September, 1984, during a monthlong counterespionage investigation that led to the arrests.
U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner and Assistant U.S. Atty. Russell Hayman began the prosecution by calling a series of Russian emigre witnesses, who told of pro-Soviet activities by Ogorodnikova dating back to 1979. In addition, a Santa Monica lawyer testified that the Ogorodnikovs were eager to locate a major KGB defector who has been sentenced to death in absentia by the Soviet Union.
While Ogorodnikova was sentenced to 18 years in prison, she is eligible for parole in six years, with credit for 18 months already spent in custody. U.S. intelligence sources said she probably could remain in the United States as a permanent resident alien, but said they believe the KGB would be obliged to allow her to rejoin her son, Matvei, 14, in the Soviet Union if her testimony does not incriminate Soviet intelligence agents.
Ogorodnikova’s lawyers, Brad D. Brian and Gregory P. Stone, have already moved for a reduction of her sentence and change in her parole status, enabling her to be released from prison immediately. In view of her disavowal of her role as a spy, a request for a new trial is now a possibility.
Ogorodnikova did not testify in Miller’s first trial, but Hunt’s testimony about his relationship with her was cited by some jurors as a “confusing” issue leading to the deadlock of 10 to 2 and 11 to 1 in favor of conviction on seven counts of espionage.