Judge says sorry to scientist freed in spy case

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The Independent US

Wen Ho Lee, the American missile scientist falsely accused of passing nuclear secrets on to China, was freed yesterday after lawyers finally worked out the terms of a plea agreement, ending his nine-month pre-trial incarceration in solitary confinement.

Wen Ho Lee, the American missile scientist falsely accused of passing nuclear secrets on to China, was freed yesterday after lawyers finally worked out the terms of a plea agreement, ending his nine-month pre-trial incarceration in solitary confinement.

His release, obtained in exchange for a single guilty plea on a minor security breach charge and a promise to co-operate further with investigators, made a mockery of earlier allegations that he had made off with the "crown jewels" of the US nuclear weapons programme.

Berating the government agencies that prosecuted Dr Lee and pressed for unusually harsh pre-trial detention conditions even though they had barely a thread of evidence, Judge James Parker apologised to Dr Lee before a packed court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for his treatment. The judge said the departments of energy and justice had "embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it".

Dr Lee pleaded guilty to just one of 59 security-related charges after admitting that he improperly downloaded information from a secure computer at the Los Alamos National Laboratories where he worked. He also promised to tell federal investigators what he did with seven computer tapes containing the information.

The judge made clear he thought even these conditions were too tough, expressing reluctance as he sentenced Dr Lee to time served and saying he wished the government could be forced to explain its conduct more fully.

A suit by Dr Lee's lawyers alleging racial discrimination - he is a Taiwanese-born US citizen - was dropped as part of the plea bargain.

Dr Lee left court to applause from family and friends.

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