BALTIMORE -- Though armed with an overwhelming case, the government drew up a plea agreement with John Walker and his son to obtain the spy ringleader's 'expert testimony' on espionage, the prosecutor says.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Schatzow says the only benefit Walker can get out of the arrangement will be a lesser prison sentence for Michael Walker, who during his two-year Navy tour gathered military secrets for his father to pass to the Soviets.
John Walker, 48, a retired Navy warrant officer, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to three counts of espionage. Michael Walker, 22, pleaded guilty to five counts of spying -- pleas that were part of the deal.
Schatzow and federal public defender Fred Bennett, who represented John Walker, said the government opened talks on a plea agreement in May - shortly after Walker was arrested.
Negotiations went on through May and June and then broke off until Oct. 23 'when the government realized that we were about to go to trial,' Bennett said. 'Why the hiatus? I believe it was the inability of the government to decide what it wanted to do in this case.'
What the government finally decided it wanted was the chance to pick John Walker's brain about his spying activities. They also wanted to know just what kind of information he gave Soviet agents.
Officials have said Walker gave the Soviets data on the Navy's operations, particularly its undersea sensor system for submarines.
'The government needs Mr. Walker's expert testimony,' Schatzow said. 'We need to know what was broken and what must be fixed and what doesn't have to be fixed.'
John Walker now faces two life sentences plus 10 years, a prison term to be served concurrently, and would be eligible for parole in 10 years. Michael Walker faces a 25-year term and four 10-year terms, to be served concurrently, and would be eligible for parole in eight years.
Before sentence is passed, John Walker must hold up his end of the agreement -- what Judge Alexander Harvey II called 'full and frank cooperation' with all government authorities. Sentencing could be held in four to six months.
Bennett conceded that the prosecution has 'an exceptionally strong, indeed overwhelming case' against the Walkers.
The admission of guilt was 'an act of redemption ... an act of contrition' for John Walker, he said.
Another feature of the agreement is the likelihood that John Walker will testify against his Navy buddy, Jerry Whitworth, who also is charged in the case and is to stand trial in January in San Francisco.
Whitworth's attorney, James Larson, said Monday he expects to file a motion soon to bar testimony from Walker, who he said would be 'a snitch testifying for substantial benefit to not only himself but to his son.'
John Walker's brother Arthur, 50, also a retired Navy officer, was convicted in August on seven counts of stealing secret documents from his employer, a Chesapeake, Va., defense contractor, for his brother to give to the Soviets. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month and faces several life terms.
Bennett said he had not spoken with Arthur Walker's attorneys but said he guessed the elder Walker might be dismayed about the plea agreement -- because John Walker could get out of jail before Arthur will.
Under the agreement, Michael Walker will face a 25-year term, plus four 10 year terms to be served concurrently. He faced two life terms plus 30 years and a $1 million fine.
The plea agreement requires John and Michael Walker to 'cooperate completely and fully with the government and any federal authorities' who wish to question them about their espionage activities, the kinds of material they passed to the Soviets and how they did their spying.
MIchael Walker's wife, Rachel, sat two rows behind her husband and appeared near tears as the plea agreement was read by the judge.
She stared at her husband throughout the hearing but he never turned to look at her.
John Walker was in a three piece gray suit, blue striped tie. Michael wore dark slacks, a cream-colored shirt and a brown tie.