Albuquerque TribuneWhen a federal judge threw Wen Ho Lee in jail nearly nine months ago, he cited "clear and convincing evidence" that the former computer scientist was a one-man threat to national security.
August 25, 2000
Bail order confines Lee to home
Evidence isn't persuasive enough to deny scientist bond, judge saysBy Leslie Hoffman
In granting bail for Lee on Thursday, the same judge ruled that the evidence against Lee "no longer has the requisite clarity and persuasive character" needed to justify keeping the 60-year-old scientist behind bars.
"I conclude that there is now a combination of conditions of release that will reasonably assure the appearance of Dr. Lee as required and the safety of the community and the nation," U.S. District Judge James Parker wrote.
Lee, who was arrested Dec. 10 and has been held at the Santa Fe County Detention Center since then, is charged with 59 counts of mishandling classified nuclear weapons codes while he was a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. A conviction could mean life in prison.
Parker's bail decision means more than just the promise of home cooking for Lee.
It marks a dramatic turn in the high-profile, national-security case and, according to some observers, might signal trouble for government prosecutors.
"This decision is not simply a relief to the defense, but it is also a blow to the prosecution," said government-secrecy critic Steven Aftergood. "It calls into question the premises of their case as it has been presented until now."
Aftergood, who is an expert with the Washington, D.C., Federation of American Scientists, has been following the Lee case.
"I think this decision throws the prosecution's case into disarray and they will have to regroup or their case will simply disintegrate," he said. "They can no longer make the same claims about the 'crown jewels' and 'changing the strategic balance' and so forth."
Federal prosecutors fought doggedly to keep jailed the man they say ferreted away a personal library of America's best kept nuclear secrets.
The government's reaction to Thursday's order was terse.
"The court's order is being reviewed," U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Patricia Chavez said. "The government will be responding in court."
A U.S. Energy Department spokesman said: "This is a matter for the court to decide."
Federal prosecutors have the option of appealing Parker's order, but they did not say Thursday whether they would.
Parker has ordered Lee released under "highly restrictive conditions of release," recommending strict house arrest, wiretaps and excursions only for case-related purposes.
Those release conditions have not been finalized.
Any release conditions will be "totally fine" with Lee's daughter, Alberta, who said minutes after learning of the decision that she was just glad to get her father back home.
"He's finally going to be home and take care of himself and eat his own food," she said, choking back tears during a telephone interview Thursday from California.
"We've been so disappointed so many times that I'm just really relieved. I'm so happy, really happy."
Parker scheduled a hearing Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque for attorneys to battle it out over the specific conditions of release.
But in a proposed order attached to his bail decision, Parker suggested a laundry list of restrictions and $1 million bond secured by property and assets of Lee's family and friends.
One of Lee's attorneys, Mark Holscher, said the defense was "gratified" by Parker's order and grateful for the testimony from "esteemed scientists" as defense experts.
"I, along with the rest of the defense team, will do everything in my power to prevent Dr. Lee from ever being imprisoned again," he said.
A riveting, three-day hearing last week on Lee's latest bail request pitted the word of both a highly-respected Cold War weaponeer and a former Los Alamos lab director against that of high-ranking lab officials testifying for the government.
For the first time, Lee's defense went on the offensive and painted a starkly different picture of the purported "crown jewels" weapons data Lee is accused of improperly transferring and downloading.
A lead FBI investigator, whose testimony was key in Parker's original decision to deny bail, also acknowledged to Parker that he made several errors in previous hearings.
Now, Lee will return home, but not immediately.
It will take the FBI and U.S. Pretrial Services a day or two after next week's hearing to prepare the Lee home in White Rock for Lee's arrival.
Pretrial Services Chief Jerome Weger said Lee's new life at his old house will include a 24-hour ankle monitor electronically connected to a responder in Lee's telephone.
For Lee's daughter, anything's better than a solitary-confinement cell and the cold visitor's room.
It was heartbreaking, Alberta Lee said, to see her father shackled in jail.
"This is just wonderful -- the happiest day so far," she said.
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