Espionage defendant Jerry Whitworth's lawyers admitted Wednesday that their client has no defense against government income tax evasion charges and that the defense case will end today without Whitworth taking the stand.
The government's case, attempting to prove that Whitworth sold Navy secrets to the Soviet Union and received $332,000 in return, took more than 10 weeks of testimony and 135 witnesses. The defense will rest after only 10 witnesses and three days.
The surprise announcement from the defense came during a brief recess in U.S. District Court. Whitworth's chief counsel, James Larson, said he canceled scheduled witnesses and decided to end his case early, because of the government's strong case on the tax charges.
Larson told reporters: "Whitworth has no defense against the tax (evasion) charges. To put him on the stand would affect his credibility as regards the other (espionage) charges."
The 46-year-old ex-Navy radioman from Davis, Calif., is accused of 13 counts of espionage and tax evasion. Before the trial, the defense argued unsuccessfully to have Whitworth tried separately on the spy and tax charges.
For Whitworth to testify, Larson agreed during the recess, would "open the gate" for government lawyers to cross-examine the defendant about the sources of the money the prosecution claims he got from the Soviet Union through confessed spymaster and ex-Navy buddy John Walker Jr.
The defense has consisted of character witnesses favorable to Whitworth and attempts to portray Walker, who was the government's key witness against Whitworth, as an habitual liar not to be trusted.
Larson also told reporters he will ask U.S. District Judge John P. Vukasin to instruct the jury later that Whitworth can be convicted of lesser charges of passing on Navy communications secrets, rather than spying. This could result in a far more lenient sentence than the life sentences carried by the espionage counts.
Whitworth's chief witness Wednesday was Roger Olson, a construction superintendent at a New Guinea copper mine. Olson said he called himself Whitworth's former and present "best friend" and that he considered the accused man "like another brother."
Olson said he first met Whitworth in the Navy in 1957 and described him as a loyal friend who "never, never said anything bad about anybody" and tended to keep his friends for many years.
Olson said he met Walker through Whitworth in San Diego and that he took an instant dislike to him, adding, "John Walker would sell out his own mother."