Letters Presented in Whitworth Spy Trial
Jun. 10, 1986
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Four anonymous letters sent to the FBI in which the writer confessed to spying for the Soviet Union and sought immunity were introduced as evidence Monday in the espionage case against Jerry Whitworth.
U.S. District Court Judge John Vukasin admitted the letters over the objections of defense lawyers, who contend the prosecution failed to show any connection between the letters and Whitworth.
Vukasin had ruled earlier that although the FBI failed to identify the source of the letters, their relevance to the case was shown by their contents, which match many details of the espionage ring led by confessed spy John Walker Jr.
Walker is the chief witness against Whitworth.
The judge said jurors could disregard the letters, signed ''RUS'' and received between May and August 1984, unless they decided Whitworth was the author. The letters were introduced as prosecutors began the 10th and final week of their case.
Whitworth, 46, a former Navy radioman from Davis, Calif., is charged with selling secrets on sensitive code and communications systems for $332,000 to Walker, his longtime friend, for relay to the Soviets.
Walker pleaded guilty in October to running an espionage ring for 17 years and agreed to testify against Whitworth. In exchange, Walker's son, Michael, who also pleaded guilty, received a reduced sentence. Walker's brother, Arthur, was convicted of spying by a federal judge.
Because they are the strongest evidence purporting to link Whitworth to the Soviet Union, the letters appear vital to the case and are certain to be a focus of appeal if Whitworth is convicted.
The first letter described a spy ring that passed communications secrets to the Soviets, and offered to help break up the ring in exchange for immunity. That offer was withdrawn in the fourth letter.
In response to the letters, the FBI placed a series of messages in the Los Angeles Times over a period of months as requested by the writer.
FBI agent John Peterson testified Monday that the messages included a promise of non-retaliation at a proposed meeting, an offer to pay travel costs to a proposed meeting in Mexico, and a statement that ''a deal can be struck of benefit to both of us.''
There was no response to the newspaper messages, he said.
FBI document expert Jerry Richards described the bureau's wide-ranging and largely unsuccessful effort to trace the letters after the first one, postmarked in Sacramento, arrived at the San Francisco FBI office May 9, 1984.
There were no fingerprints on any of the letters, Richards said.
The typewriter could not be identified or matched with known examples of Whitworth's typing, but the type face was a common one that was also used in one of several typing balls for an electric typewriter found in Whitworth's house, he said.
Post office managers from Sacramento and San Jose testified that three of the letters bore postmarks showing they could have been mailed from Whitworth's hometown of Davis, and the postmark on the fourth indicated it could have come from Holllister, Calif., where Whitworth was traveling around that time, according to other testimony.
Prosecutors also tried to link Whitworth to the letters Monday by discussing writing style.
FBI agent Robert Griego testified that words, phrases and distinctive punctuation in the anonymous letters were found in letters found in Whitworth's house.
For example, Griego said, the phrases ''and etc.'' or ''& etc.'' appeared three times in the ''RUS'' letters and six times in Whitworth's letters, and the spelling ''tho'' was used once by the anonymous writer and eight times by Whitworth.
Jurors listened as FBI agent John Peterson read the letters aloud.
In the first letter, the author wrote of having passed top-secret cryptographic key lists for military communications, technical manuals and intelligence messages, all items that Walker said Whitworth provided.
The letters said the author's ''contact,'' a U.S. citizen, assed the material on overseas and had recruited at least three other members, also consistent with Walker's testimony.
Perhaps most crucial to the prosecution's case is a line in the first letter: ''I didn't know that the info was being passed to the USSR until after I had been involved a few years.''
Walker testified he never told Whitworth that the secrets were being bought by the Soviet Union, but instead suggested that the buyers were either Israelis, a private intelligence organization or the Mafia. Walker did say, over strenuous defense objections, that ''common sense'' suggested Whitworth must have known the Soviets were the buyers.
The indictment against Whitworth says he acted with the knowledge and intention that the secrets would be relayed to the Soviets.
Defense lawyers say Whitworth could be acquitted of the nine espionage- relate d charges against him unless the prosecution proves he knew of the Soviet role.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Farmer disagrees, saying the law requires only that the government prove Whitworth knew or should have known that the secrets would be used to harm the United States or help a foreign power.
Farmer has not said which evidence proves Whitworth had that knowledge.