Calling Jerry A. Whitworth "one of the most spectacular spies of this century," a federal judge Thursday sentenced the former U.S. Navy communication specialist to 365 years in prison and fined him $410,000.
U.S. District Judge John P. Vukasin also ordered that Whitworth, 47, who stole Navy coding secrets for sale to the Soviet Union, serve 60 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
It is by far the heaviest sentence imposed on any member of the Soviet spy ring headed by John A. Walker Jr., and the harshest in a U.S. espionage case since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death in 1953 for giving atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, federal officials said. It far exceeded the 150-year sentence requested by prosecutors.
'I'm Very, Very Sorry'
"I just want to say I'm very, very sorry," Whitworth, a native of rural Oklahoma, told the judge before sentence was imposed. Whitworth, whose espionage career began in 1974 and continued until his arrest in June, 1985, spoke in a breaking voice and wiped his eyes as he returned to his seat in the courtroom.
But Vukasin was unmoved and administered a long, acidic denunciation of the convicted spy as he pronounced sentence.
"Mr. Whitworth," he said, "did not supply the Soviet Union with the rags and bones of American military secrets. No. He supplied them with the most coveted and guarded secrets."
But he noted that the 24-year Navy veteran, who retired in 1983, spied for the money, not for ideological reasons. "Mr. Whitworth did not believe in what he did; he didn't believe in anything at all. . . . Jerry Whitworth is a zero at the bone. He believes in nothing."
The judge called Whitworth's expressions of remorse "arid," the "hopes of a man without hope." And, in a reference to the subtitle of Hannah Arendt's 1963 book about Nazi Adolf Eichmann, "Banality of Evil," Vukasin concluded that "Jerry Whitworth is the evil of banality."
Defense lawyers called the sentence unjust and said they will appeal. They noted that Whitworth may serve more prison time than Walker, who headed the four-member spy ring, recruited Whitworth in 1974 and passed on to Soviet agents the secrets that he supplied. Walker pleaded guilty last October and was the key prosecution witness against Whitworth.
Under terms of his plea-bargain, Walker, whose spying began in 1968, faces a lifetime prison term but will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
But Vukasin turned down defense pleas that Whitworth receive the same term as Walker, saying, "Considering the magnitude of the crime, any time imposed that would allow parole in 10 years would be unconscionable."
The sentence came as the Justice Department released newly declassified information quoting former Soviet defector Vitaly Yurchenko as saying the Soviets believed the Walker spy operation was the most important "in the KGB's history."
The secrets would have been "devastating" to the United States if there had been a war during the 17 years that Walker operated, according to a summary of Yurchenko's statements to U.S. intelligence agents. Yurchenko was a top KGB official who defected to the United States in July, 1985, then, in a highly publicized turnaround, redefected to the Soviet Union four months later, claiming he had been drugged and kidnaped by the CIA.
Before Yurchenko returned, he told American intelligence agents that the secrets delivered by Walker allowed the Soviets to decode more than 1 million U.S. military messages.
The operation was so important and successful that KGB agents who handled it received promotions and decorations, Yurchenko said. Yurchenko told his debriefers that he was called in by the KGB after Walker's May, 1985, arrest to determine whether a Soviet citizen had tipped U.S. officials to the operation.
Yurchenko was quoted as saying that the Soviets did not believe U.S. law enforcement officials who said the ring was broken when Walker's estranged wife, Barbara, called the FBI in November, 1984, and began revealing the family secrets. A summary of Yurchenko's statements was included in an affidavit by John L. Marin, head of internal security for the Justice Department.
Whitworth is the only non-family member convicted in the operation, which included Walker, Walker's son, Michael, and brother, Arthur.
Whitworth was convicted of espionage and income tax evasion on July 24 after a trial of almost four months. A federal court jury concluded that he sold U.S. Navy code keys and diagrams, as well as information about the sophisticated Navy communications system, to the Soviets for a total of $332,000.
Vukasin had lamented early in the case that capital punishment was not an option since there was no federal death penalty in effect at the time of the crimes. But using new and unsettled case law, he imposed prison terms of 180 years for each of seven espionage counts. Two of those terms were to run consecutively, bringing the total to 360 years.
The judge raised the total to 365 years in prison by imposing another five years for one of the income tax evasion counts. He also imposed concurrent three-year terms for three remaining tax evasion counts and fined Whitworth $410,000.
The fine is significant because it means that any money Whitworth earns at prison jobs will go to the government. One of the defense attorneys, James Larson, said Whitworth has no plans to write a book about his experiences, unlike several members of the Walker family.
Pennies for Lives
Vukasin said that Whitworth sold out his loved ones, fellow servicemen and the entire nation and calculated that in a country of more than 200 million people, the $332,000 Whitworth received meant "their lives amounted to a little more than a few cents each."
He called Whitworth's crime a "magnificently cruel hoax" because while he was selling the secrets he was posing as a security-conscious radioman and trusted senior chief petty officer.
He used the money to "beguile his wife--a wife many years his junior--with promises of the good life," the judge said, adding that the "money from the Kremlin" bought luxuries and "finery" for Whitworth and his wife.
Whitworth's wife, Brenda Reis, 30, was the only member of Whitworth's family who attended the sentencing. She quietly dabbed tears from her face and left court with her attorney, making no comment.
A longtime friend of Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and other Californians in the Reagan Administraion, Vukasin, 58, is regarded as a tough sentencer by lawyers who practice in federal court here. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1983.
Vukasin's first judicial appointment also was by Reagan, who as governor named him an Alameda County Superior Court judge in 1974. He previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and as a lawyer in private practice and was active in Republican politics.
When he was arrested in June, 1985, Whitworth was unemployed and living in a trailer court in Davis where his wife was completing her doctoral studies at the University of California.
Basis of Appeal
Larson said he will argue in his appeal that the judge overstepped his authority by imposing the sentence of more than life. Federal appellate courts only recently have said that judges may impose sentences that are longer than a life sentence.
"If Mr. Walker sees the light of day before Mr. Whitworth, it will be a tragedy," Larson said.
Walker was to have been formally sentenced Thursday in Baltimore. But prosecutors there asked that it be delayed. According to the plea-bargain, Walker is to receive two life terms, but would be eligible for parole in 10 years.
Assistant U.S. Atty. William (Buck) Farmer, the chief prosecutor in the case, hailed the sentence. "It made good sense, it fit the crime, it is what the defendant deserves," he said.