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Spy Trial for Retired Officer Is Postponed

April 26, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A federal judge agreed Thursday to delay until possibly January the espionage trial of a retired Air Force master sergeant accused of plotting to spy for Iraq, China and Libya.

The move by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Va., gives defense lawyers and prosecutors more time to prepare for the unusual death-penalty case against Brian Patrick Regan, 39.

The judge will set a new trial date May 3 but advised lawyers to consider Jan. 13 or later.

Regan worked for the Air Force and briefly for TRW Inc., a defense contractor, at the National Reconnaissance Office. He is charged with three counts of attempted espionage and one count of gathering national security information.

Regan has pleaded not guilty. The case is unusual because it is the first time in decades the government has sought the death penalty in an espionage case and because prosecutors do not allege that Regan's actions resulted in anyone's death.

Even the judge noted in his 21-page decision Thursday: "It is fair to say that the government's intent to seek the death penalty in this case was unexpected in light of other espionage cases heard in this district."

Prosecutors said Regan intended to offer Iraqi President Saddam Hussein secret details about American satellites that could help Iraq hide its antiaircraft missiles in exchange for $13 million in Swiss currency. He also is accused of plotting to sell similar information to China and Libya.

Earlier this week, the judge set an unexpectedly early trial date of June 3. Regan's lawyers formally complained the date was too soon for a death-penalty case, and even prosecutors noted that it would take at least 45 days to obtain security clearances to allow defense experts to examine classified documents. The two sides had proposed a Nov. 12 trial.

The June trial date gave the sides just 43 days before testimony was to begin.

"This court regrets that defense counsel have the impression that the court is more concerned with the speed of the so-called 'rocket docket' than with fairness in this case," the judge wrote. The federal court in the Washington suburb is known among lawyers as the "rocket docket" because of the speed with which its criminal trials move.

In agreeing to set a new trial date, the judge said Thursday that defense lawyers showed him "good cause" why the trial should be delayed because they supplied sworn statements by legal experts "describing what work remains to be done on the case."

The judge also said that he "has attended to the defendant's rights since the beginning of this case," countering what he said were claims by defense lawyers that "the court has exhibited indifference to the accused's 6th Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel."

The judge wrote that, by appointing some of the most prominent lawyers available to work on Regan's behalf, he "provided the defendant with the means necessary for a more-than-adequate legal representation." The judge also noted that defense lawyers have had more than eight months since Regan's arrest to prepare his case.

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