High court leaves standing conviction of Marine who traded sex for secrets

April 06, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Former Marine Sgt. Clayton J. Lonetree, convicted six years ago in a famous sex-for-secrets spying case, may get his 25-year sentence reduced, but his guilty verdict will stand under an order by the Supreme Court yesterday.

Without comment, the court refused to hear the ex-Marine's complaint that two U.S. intelligence agents duped him into confessing to espionage and his separate claim that he had a right to know the real identity of another agent who testified against him.

Lonetree was 25 years old when a military jury found him guilty of several charges of spying and illegal disclosure of secrets to the Soviet KGB -- charges growing out of his activities while a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and later at the embassy in Vienna, Austria.

His celebrated trial in the summer of 1987 at the Quantico, Va., Marine Base brought out the spicy details of a romantic relationship he had with a Soviet woman, Violette Seina, who ultimately led him into channeling U.S. secrets to the KGB through a man he knew as "Uncle Sasha."

His KGB contact, it turned out, was a double agent, supplying secrets both to the U.S. and Soviet governments.

The Marine was charged with spying for the KGB both while in Moscow and in Vienna. Among the secrets he was accused of delivering to the Soviets were identities of secret U.S. agents and floor plans of embassy buildings.

Finding that he was getting into espionage too deeply, Lonetree approached a secret U.S. agent at an embassy Christmas party in 1986 for help. That led to extensive interviews with intelligence agents, and later to his prosecution as a spy.

Military courts upheld the ex-sergeant's conviction, rejecting his constitutional challenges. Lonetree then took his case on to the Supreme Court, losing there yesterday.

But the military legal system's highest court, the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, ruled in September that Lonetree should be given a chance to ask for a reduced sentence.

Originally given 30 years in prison, Lonetree's sentence was cut down to 25 by the base commander at Quantico because the former Marine had cooperated with U.S. officials as they explored the damage done to U.S. secrets by his activities.

Then, the Court of Military Appeals declared that his sentence should be reviewed again, because of Lonetree's complaint that his main defense lawyer -- famous civil liberties attorney William M. Kunstler -- kept him from making a plea deal that might have meant a lower sentence.

Mr. Kunstler, the former sergeant has contended, wanted a full trial to show that Lonetree was being made a "scapegoat" by the military legal system because he is an American Indian.

Lonetree also has claimed that his civilian lawyers drove a wedge between him and the two Marine officers also assigned to help in his defense.

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