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Judge Emphasizes ‘Utter Contempt’ for Walker : Gives Ex-Navy Spy Life Sentence, Vows to Attempt to Make Him Serve Full Term

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge, expressing “utter contempt and disgust” for John A. Walker Jr.'s “despicable acts,” sentenced the convicted spy Thursday to life imprisonment and vowed to “do everything in my power” to prevent him from ever being paroled.

U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II, in sentencing Walker’s ex-sailor son, Michael Lance, 24, to 25 years in prison for his part in the family spy ring, said he should serve a full term as well, despite his youth and the fact that his father had recruited him.

“I look in vain for some redeeming aspect in your character,” Harvey told the older Walker, who made no comment at the proceeding, where he stood facing the judge, his hands clasped in front of him.

“Your espionage activities caused tremendous harm to the national security of this country,” he said in summarizing Walker’s sales of Navy secrets to the Soviet Union. The sentencing concluded legal proceedings stemming from the 18-year spy ring, which government authorities rated as among the most damaging in U.S. history.

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Unusual Language

Although judges often file views on how a defendant’s case should be handled with the Parole Commission, it is unusual for a judge to publicly state what those opinions are and to express them in such harsh language. Harvey told the elder Walker that “it is difficult for me to believe that any parole commission could agree on an early release (for you) . . . . I will strenuously recommend that you not be released for the rest of your life.”

Benjamin F. Baer, parole commission chairman, said that the panel welcomes such expression of opinion from judges, which can weigh heavily in the decision-making process. “I, personally, and the commission, as a body, give a lot of consideration to what a judge says,” Baer said in an interview.

Fred Warren Bennett, John Walker’s attorney, protested that the judge’s intention to urge the Parole Commission never to set Walker free is “inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the plea agreement” with the government, under which both Walkers were sentenced.

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‘Think What You Want’

“You can think what you want, Mr. Bennett,” the judge said. “That is what I will do.”

A federal defendant given a life sentence customarily becomes eligible for parole in 10 years. One sentenced to 25 years can usually be paroled after a little more than eight years.

Under the plea agreement, the defendants pledged to cooperate fully with government attempts to assess the national security damage done by the ring, provided that they would receive the sentences Harvey imposed Thursday. However, the agreement did not deal with any communication with the Parole Commission by the judge.

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Commission Chairman Baer noted that the espionage crimes to which the Walkers pleaded guilty fall into the commission’s most severe category of offense, along with murder, treason and skyjacking. It is the only one of the panel’s eight categories that contains no maximum limit on time served.

Will Study Agreement

Bennett and Charles Bernstein, Michael Walker’s attorney, said that they would study the plea-bargain agreement and sentencing procedures before deciding whether to appeal the judge’s action on recommending against parole.

As Harvey imposed the sentences, John Walker’s ex-wife, Barbara Crowley Walker, who first tipped the FBI about the spy ring, began to cry in the spectators’ section of the courtroom. Her daughter, Laura, whom John Walker had unsuccessfully attempted to recruit for the ring, sat emotionless alongside her mother.

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John Walker, according to his testimony, began the ring when serving as a communications specialist in the Navy and expanded it after he retired. Michael Walker fed his father Navy secrets from the nuclear carrier Nimitz, on which he served. The younger Walker has been dishonorably discharged by the service.

In addition to those two men, the ring included John Walker’s brother, Arthur J., a retired Navy lieutenant commander, and John Walker’s ex-Navy friend, Jerry A. Whitworth. Both men were convicted of espionage. Arthur Walker received a life sentence, and Whitworth drew the most severe punishment of all: 365 years in prison, making him eligible for parole at the age of 107.

Notes ‘Pure Greed’

Harvey said that John Walker was not spurred by ideology to spy for the Soviets, noting that “your motive was pure greed.” The judge cited estimates that Walker had been paid about $1 million in cash for the communications, codes and other secrets he provided the Soviets.

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“You and the others were traitors for pure, cold cash,” Harvey said.

“You showed your stripes early,” the judge added, recalling that Walker had suggested his wife turn to prostitution to help him out of the financial pressure of a failing bar he owned. “To increase your earnings, you recruited members of your family (for the ring). It made no difference to you that they were your own flesh and blood.”

Although Bennett said that Walker had asked him to express his remorse to the judge and the American public, Harvey said he found in Walker “no genuine remorse for these despicable acts.”

Doesn’t Lift Blame

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The judge seemed to accept the statement of Michael Walker’s lawyer, Bernstein, that he had turned from his alcoholic mother to his father, whom the lawyer described as “one of the worst persons your honor will have occasion to sentence” and who “led him down the path to treason.”

But Harvey, noting that Michael Walker spied while in the Navy, said that “one doesn’t need much maturity or education” to recognize the wrongfulness of such acts.

Despite doubts expressed in court about whether the government yet knows when the ring actually began, Robert Hunter, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent who has been involved in the case from the beginning, estimated that authorities now “probably have 98% of the story--at least.”


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