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Family of Accused Spy Looking to New Trial

February 16, 1986|CATHERINE GEWERTZ | United Press International

Trying to shut out the stinging taunts of fellow prisoners, former FBI agent Richard Miller reads Mormon tracts in his solitary jail cell while awaiting his second espionage trial.

Although Miller was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for adultery, the religious readings bring him solace and strength to endure an indefinite time behind bars, his wife, Paula, said in an interview.

Reviled by fellow inmates, Miller must endure the barbed questions of convicts who, according to his lawyers, pass by his cell and shout:

"Are you really a spy?"

Miller has been behind bars for 15 months on charges that he sold government secrets to his Soviet lover, admitted spy Svetlana Ogorodnikova, for a promised $65,000 in cash and gold. He is the only FBI agent ever charged with spying.

Couple Pleaded Guilty

Ogorodnikova and her husband, Nikolai, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the middle of their separate trials in June, 1985, and are serving prison terms.

Miller, a former Soviet counterintelligence agent, denies giving Ogorodnikova secret papers. He insists that he was only posing as a spy in a maverick attempt to put a shine on his failing career by infiltrating the KGB.

Miller's first trial ended in November when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked after 14 days of deliberations. His retrial began Thursday with jury selection and is expected to last at least two months.

For more than a year after his October, 1984 arrest, Miller was held in a room in the hospital section of Terminal Island Federal Prison. But recently he was transferred to a solitary cell in the facility's high-security area, a move that subjects him to verbal harassment from prisoners passing by in the adjoining corridor.

Prison Life Hard

Paula Miller said prison life has been hard on her husband but added that his religious readings and his even-tempered nature have stood him in good stead.

"Other inmates go by his door and shout ugly things at him," she said. "(Prison guards) unplug him in the middle of a phone call. He'll go days without a shower or exercise. He's being detained under the presumption of innocence, but they treat him as though he's a dangerous felon.

"He's hanging on, though. He's come to grips with what's facing him and he's stolid. He's the kind of person who keeps plugging away. He doesn't go into fits of depression or crying jags. He's just a solid kind of person."

Paula Miller, a high school teacher, said she can visit her husband only on weekends because she cannot juggle the 100-mile drive to the prison with her full-time work and family responsibilities.

The Millers have eight children, who range in age from 3 to 20. The children take turns accompanying their mother on prison visits.

The idea of facing another trial is exhausting, she said, but she and the children will face it with all the energy they can muster.

"The best revenge is to survive," she said with a laugh. "It's hard because the energy level we had the first time around is dissipated. It's down to the grind of just hanging on and keep plugging."

The children seem to be coming through the ordeal well, she said. They are active in school and community theater productions. One son is even putting on amateur magic shows, she said.

The family keeps no secrets about Miller's arrest and retrial.

"I'm hard-headed and practical," Paula Miller said. "I am not going to crawl into a hole and pull the dirt in after us. It's not a secret who I am."

Family Prays Daily

To keep their emotional reserves up and their ties strong, the family prays daily for Miller, she said. They believe firmly in his innocence and have faith the judicial system will prove them right.

The Millers know, however, that even an acquittal can never fix the damage done to the family.

"There is no way it can be erased, what we've suffered," Paula Miller said. "I spend time mourning for what's lost. But I know we have to move on and look forward to the next thing.

"If we still have the things we believe in--our family, our love of God--then even if the world is caving in around us we'll be OK."

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