Federal authorities took unusual security precautions last week with convicted spy John A. Walker Jr., moving him from a rural Maryland jail to Lewisburg federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania, after establishing that he had discussed a plan to feign illness and then break out of a hospital, it was learned Monday.
Despite Walker's alleged discussion, which government sources said represented the second time he is known to have considered an escape plan, the Justice Department will not try to delay the sentencing of Walker and his son, Michael, a former sailor, set for Thursday in Baltimore.
'Can't Call It Escape'
"You can't call it an escape attempt because that's being halfway over the wall or sawing through the bars," one official said. However, he added: "It's not going to make life in prison too comfortable for him." The government sends prisoners thought likely to attempt escape to institutions that impose the most severe restrictions on inmates.
Although investigators said that they have indisputable evidence of Walker's escape discussion, the sources would not disclose with whom Walker discussed escaping or how the government established that the talks took place.
Justice Department officials decided last week against asking a federal judge to impose stiffer sentences on the two Walkers, despite lingering suspicion that John Walker has not told the full truth about his espionage operations, as he promised to do under a plea-bargain arrangement.
Under that agreement, the father is to be sentenced to life in prison, which theoretically makes him eligible for parole in 10 years, and Michael to a 25-year term, which means that he could be free in a little more than eight years. Government authorities have ranked the Walker spy case as among the most damaging espionage operations in U.S. history.
Walker's discussion about escaping took place at the Cecil County Jail in Elkton, Md., where he was being held while authorities pursued unresolved questions about his 17 years of selling highly sensitive Navy secrets to the Soviet Union, according to sources close to the case who spoke only on the condition that they not be identified.
One source said that Walker is a diabetic and talked of feigning an insulin attack. Another said that the discussion mentioned faking a severe asthma attack.
In October, 1985, Walker, then being held in a Rockville, Md., jail, reportedly contacted his daughter, Margaret, in Norfolk, Va., and sought her help in cashing in his insurance policies as part of an escape plot.
That plan called for $200,000 to be paid to a former employee of Walker's private detective firm in return for his help in the escape. Another former Walker associate, however, allegedly turned over to the FBI a recording of Walker discussing the plan.