Lindh pleads not guilty

trial in Aug.

CIA officer's family calls Lindh a traitor, accomplice in death

February 14, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - John Walker Lindh pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that he conspired to kill Americans and aided Osama bin Laden's terrorist network as the parents and widow of the first American killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan watched intently from the packed courtroom.

In a quiet, polite voice, Lindh said, "Not guilty, sir," when U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III asked how he wanted to plead to the 10-count federal indictment against him. His attorneys requested a jury trial, which was tentatively scheduled to begin in late August.

Waiting in the courtroom for Lindh to appear, Johnny Spann, the father of deceased CIA officer Johnny M. "Mike" Spann, said: "I think he's an accomplice in my son's death." He said he and his wife will attend Lindh's trial and all the pretrial hearings.

Lindh's father, Frank Lindh, who sat two rows behind his son with Lindh's mother, Marilyn Walker, approached Johnny Spann outside the courtroom to say something, but was shoved away by members of the prosecution team. There was no immediate explanation.

Lindh's parents, who are divorced, did not speak to reporters at the federal courthouse, which is just a few miles from the Pentagon, the target of one of the four hijacked airliners in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Lindh will appear in court again tomorrow, when the judge is to formally schedule a trial date and pretrial hearings, which will include arguments over the availability and use of classified information.

The judge tentatively set jury selection to begin Aug. 26.

Lindh's attorneys and government prosecutors filed a brief Tuesday night asking that the trial be scheduled for November. But Ellis said November was "too far away" and did not serve the public's interest in a speedy trial.

"It'll wonderfully concentrate everyone's mind, including mine," the judge said.

Lindh's attorney, George C. Harris, argued that the defense needs more time to prepare.

"We have an indictment here that alleges events in another part of the world, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen," Harris said. "We anticipate we will need to do investigations in that part of the world."

Ellis responded sternly that the group would "need to go about it swiftly then."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows said he expects the presentation of the government's case to take about two weeks.

Lindh, who just turned 21, sat calmly through the hearing, leaving his seat only to address the judge. He was clean-shaven and his hair has grown back somewhat since he asked, according to Pentagon officials, to have his head shaved while in military custody.

He was called on to say little during yesterday's 25-minute hearing, responding "Yes" and "Right, sir," when the judge asked if he had seen the indictment and gone over it with his lawyers.

On his way from the courtroom, he smiled warmly at his mother and father. His parents were present for his two previous court appearances here and have visited him frequently since he was brought back to the United States by military aircraft on Jan. 24.

The indictment filed last week alleges that Lindh trained in a terrorist camp run by bin Laden and stayed to fight along with al-Qaida soldiers even after he knew that 50 bin Laden-trained terrorists had been dispatched on suicide missions to the United States and Israel.

Lindh's attorneys have disputed that he was fighting against the United States or that he had anything to do with Mike Spann's death. Rather, they argue, he enlisted to fight against the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The indictment says Lindh was interrogated by Spann and another, unidentified agent Nov. 25 at a prison compound near Mazar-e Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, where Lindh and hundreds of other fighters were being held after their surrender to Northern Alliance forces.

During the interrogation, part of which was taped by a German film crew, neither Spann nor the other agent appears to have realized that Lindh was American, believing at one point that he could be Irish. According to the criminal complaint on which the indictment was based, Walker told the agents he was from Pakistan but refused to answer any of their questions.

Shortly after Lindh's interview, rioting prisoners converged on the agents, killing Spann.

In a brief filed last week, Lindh's lawyers said that their client was nowhere near Spann when he was attacked. They said he was waiting in a holding area with his hands tied behind his back when the revolt erupted.

Lindh emerged from the compound Dec. 1, and was taken into the care of the Red Cross, which later turned him over to U.S. officials.

After the hearing, Mike Spann's parents and his widow, Shannon Spann, called Lindh a traitor and said that he shares responsibility for the attack on the CIA officer.

Shannon Spann, who also works for the CIA, said she wants to see Lindh put to death.

The government is not seeking the death penalty. Lindh faces life in prison if convicted.

"Mr. Walker has a dilemma," she said outside the courthouse. "He has certainly spent the last few years of his life with the belief [in] his extreme form of Islam.

"But it appears that at the end of the day ... he doesn't believe that, because this morning he has chosen to trust in the prosperity and the protection of the United States of America by saying that he is not guilty of the things that he has dedicated his life to."

Gail Spann, Mike Spann's mother, said: "Mike was a hero not because of the way he died but because of the way he lived. And I'd also like to say that John Walker is a traitor because of the way he lived."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.