Judge To Release Wen Ho Lee on Bail

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge agreed to free a former Los Alamos scientist accused of mishandling nuclear secrets, saying the government's case ``no longer has the requisite clarity and persuasive character necessary'' to keep Wen Ho Lee in jail pending his trial.

U.S. District Judge James Parker's ruling Thursday follows a hearing last week in which Lee's lawyers cast doubt on the solidity of the government's case and on the sensitivity of the nuclear material involved.

Two previous bail requests for Lee since his arrest Dec. 10 had been rejected.

``I conclude that there now is a combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of Dr. Lee as required and the safety of the community and the nation,'' said Parker.

Lee's daughter, Alberta Lee, 28, sobbed with relief. ``I'm just so happy he's going to be able to go home, eat his own food, sleep in his own bed,'' she said. ``It's the best day in a long time.''

Lee, 60, wasn't immediately released. The judge set a hearing for Tuesday on the conditions of his release after eight months in jail.

Los Alamos scientist Don Marshall and his wife, Jean, were named as Lee's custodians while he is out on bail. The couple are neighbors of Lee.

Marshall said Friday he could not comment on the case. But he added: ``We certainly believe he is not involved in espionage.''

$1 million bond would be secured by properties belonging to Lee, his brother and sister-in-law and the Marshalls.

Under the judge's proposal, the Taiwanese-born scientist would be required to remain at his home under surveillance at most times, and all of his telephone calls and mail could be inspected. He could leave only in the company of at least one of his lawyers.

He would be required to report by telephone twice a day to the federal court, and one of the Marshalls must be present in Lee's home each day when he phones to check in.

Only Lee's wife, Sylvia, could live with him, but his children could come for visits prearranged with authorities. She could leave the home only after notifying authorities of where she was going and why, and law enforcement agents would be allowed to search her both before and after the trip.

The U.S. attorney's office and Justice Department said they were reviewing Parker's order and would respond in court.

Victor Hwang, managing attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, said: ``The conditions, while restrictive, are livable restrictions.'' Parker this week granted friend-of-the-court status to the caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union to file briefs in support of disclosing any evidence that Lee was singled out for prosecution because of ethnic bias.

Lee, who was fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory last year, is charged with 59 counts alleging he transferred restricted data to unsecure computers and tape. Some of the tapes are missing.

Parker heard three days of arguments last week about Lee's release.

Lee's lawyers argued that he was singled out because he is Asian, and they got an FBI agent whose testimony was key to denying the scientist bail to acknowledge that he had given inaccurate testimony against Lee.

Chief prosecutor George Stamboulidis argued that Lee could help someone build a bomb or help a country bolster its nuclear program if he is released from jail.

``The breadth of the potential harm is so great that ... even a reduced risk is too great to take that gamble,'' he said.

However, defense attorney Holscher told Parker there is no evidence Lee ``has the political motivation, the financial motivation or the destructive intent'' to do anything harmful with the material he is accused of downloading.


On the Net:

Supporters of Lee: http://www.wenholee.org

Department of Justice: http://www.usdoj.gov

Los Alamos National Laboratory: http://www.lanl.gov/worldview