SAN FRANCISCO — Calling Jerry A. Whitworth "one of the most spectacular spies of this century," a federal judge Thursday sentenced the former U.S. Navy communication specialist to 365 years in prison and fined him $410,000.
U.S. District Judge John P. Vukasin also ordered that Whitworth, 47, who stole Navy coding secrets for sale to the Soviet Union, serve 60 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday September 8, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story that appeared in The Times on Aug. 29 on the sentence given convicted Soviet spy Jerry Whitworth, it was reported that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for giving atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. Actually, the Rosenbergs were executed after their conviction of conspiracy to commit espionage, including the theft of atomic bomb secrets, for the Soviet Union.
It is by far the heaviest sentence imposed on any member of the Soviet spy ring headed by John A. Walker Jr., and the harshest in a U.S. espionage case since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death in 1953 for giving atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, federal officials said. It far exceeded the 150-year sentence requested by prosecutors.
'I'm Very, Very Sorry'
"I just want to say I'm very, very sorry," Whitworth, a native of rural Oklahoma, told the judge before sentence was imposed. Whitworth, whose espionage career began in 1974 and continued until his arrest in June, 1985, spoke in a breaking voice and wiped his eyes as he returned to his seat in the courtroom.
But Vukasin was unmoved and administered a long, acidic denunciation of the convicted spy as he pronounced sentence.
"Mr. Whitworth," he said, "did not supply the Soviet Union with the rags and bones of American military secrets. No. He supplied them with the most coveted and guarded secrets."
But he noted that the 24-year Navy veteran, who retired in 1983, spied for the money, not for ideological reasons. "Mr. Whitworth did not believe in what he did; he didn't believe in anything at all. . . . Jerry Whitworth is a zero at the bone. He believes in nothing."
The judge called Whitworth's expressions of remorse "arid," the "hopes of a man without hope." And, in a reference to the subtitle of Hannah Arendt's 1963 book about Nazi Adolf Eichmann, "Banality of Evil," Vukasin concluded that "Jerry Whitworth is the evil of banality."
Defense lawyers called the sentence unjust and said they will appeal. They noted that Whitworth may serve more prison time than Walker, who headed the four-member spy ring, recruited Whitworth in 1974 and passed on to Soviet agents the secrets that he supplied. Walker pleaded guilty last October and was the key prosecution witness against Whitworth.
Under terms of his plea-bargain, Walker, whose spying began in 1968, faces a lifetime prison term but will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
But Vukasin turned down defense pleas that Whitworth receive the same term as Walker, saying, "Considering the magnitude of the crime, any time imposed that would allow parole in 10 years would be unconscionable."
The sentence came as the Justice Department released newly declassified information quoting former Soviet defector Vitaly Yurchenko as saying the Soviets believed the Walker spy operation was the most important "in the KGB's history."
The secrets would have been "devastating" to the United States if there had been a war during the 17 years that Walker operated, according to a summary of Yurchenko's statements to U.S. intelligence agents. Yurchenko was a top KGB official who defected to the United States in July, 1985, then, in a highly publicized turnaround, redefected to the Soviet Union four months later, claiming he had been drugged and kidnaped by the CIA.
Before Yurchenko returned, he told American intelligence agents that the secrets delivered by Walker allowed the Soviets to decode more than 1 million U.S. military messages.
The operation was so important and successful that KGB agents who handled it received promotions and decorations, Yurchenko said. Yurchenko told his debriefers that he was called in by the KGB after Walker's May, 1985, arrest to determine whether a Soviet citizen had tipped U.S. officials to the operation.
Yurchenko was quoted as saying that the Soviets did not believe U.S. law enforcement officials who said the ring was broken when Walker's estranged wife, Barbara, called the FBI in November, 1984, and began revealing the family secrets. A summary of Yurchenko's statements was included in an affidavit by John L. Marin, head of internal security for the Justice Department.
Whitworth is the only non-family member convicted in the operation, which included Walker, Walker's son, Michael, and brother, Arthur.
Whitworth was convicted of espionage and income tax evasion on July 24 after a trial of almost four months. A federal court jury concluded that he sold U.S. Navy code keys and diagrams, as well as information about the sophisticated Navy communications system, to the Soviets for a total of $332,000.
Vukasin had lamented early in the case that capital punishment was not an option since there was no federal death penalty in effect at the time of the crimes. But using new and unsettled case law, he imposed prison terms of 180 years for each of seven espionage counts. Two of those terms were to run consecutively, bringing the total to 360 years.