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Jury ponders whether convicted spy should be eligible for death penalty

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ A federal jury convicted Brian Patrick Regan of attempted espionage, but could not decide whether the retired Air Force master sergeant should face the death penalty.

The U.S. District Court jury adjourned Thursday without resolving the final issue of Regan's espionage trial: whether he offered secrets so crucial to national security that they warrant a death sentence. Deliberations were scheduled to resume Monday.

Regan was convicted Thursday of offering to sell U.S. intelligence information to Iraq and China but acquitted of attempted spying for Libya. He also was convicted of gathering national defense information.

The 40-year-old Bowie, Md., resident stood and showed no emotion as deputy courtroom clerk Jo Solomon read the verdict.

But jurors remained unable to reach a decision on whether the information Regan offered to Iraq involved nuclear weapons, military satellites, war plans, ways of retaliating against a large-scale attack or other major weapons systems. Only if the jury answers yes could Regan face the death penalty.

Jurors would hear a second round of testimony to consider such a sentence.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were the last Americans put to death for spying. They were executed in 1953 for conspiring to steal U.S. atomic secrets for the Soviet Union.

A lawyer who has handled federal and state death penalty cases suggested that at least one Regan juror was trying to end the case without taking up the death penalty. ``There's not an unanimity to proceed to a death penalty sentencing,'' said Washington attorney Jeffrey O'Toole.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Paul Robinson, a former federal prosecutor in Alexandria, said jurors may be arguing over whether the information Regan offered Iraq fell under the categories that would make him eligible for the death penalty.

``It could well be that there is some factual dispute among the jurors,'' Robinson said. ``What we don't know is if it's an 11-1 split or a 6-6 split.''

Regan had worked at the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the government's spy satellites, first for the Air Force and then as a civilian employee for TRW, a defense contractor.

He was arrested Aug. 23, 2001, at Dulles International Airport outside Washington while boarding a flight for Zurich, Switzerland. Regan was carrying information with the coded coordinates of Iraqi and Chinese missile sites, the missiles that were stored there, and the date the information was obtained. He also had the addresses of the Chinese and Iraqi embassies in Switzerland and Austria in his wallet and tucked into his right shoe.

FBI agents found a letter written to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on a computer taken from Regan's home. The letter sought $13 million ``to have someone within the heart of the U.S. intelligence agency providing you with vital secrets.''

The trial was unusual because the government, wary of disclosing classified material in public, normally agrees to plea bargains in espionage cases.

It also was surprising that the government sought the death penalty in a case where prosecutors acknowledged sensitive material never was passed. In cases much more damaging to the government, the CIA's Aldrich Ames and the FBI's Robert Hanssen were sentenced to life in prison.

``They're seeking a penalty that's hugely out of proportion with what this man is accused of,'' said Daniel Dodson, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

But Attorney General John Ashcroft said the verdict ``demonstrates that a man who had been gifted with our nation's trust and betrayed that trust, will be held accountable in our system of justice.''
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