Court to Consider Bail for Scientist In Secrets Case

James Sterngold - The New York Times - September 7, 2000

LOS ANGELES An appeals court announced today that it would hold a hearing on Monday on whether Wen Ho Lee, the former Los Alamos scientist accused of mishandling nuclear weapons secrets, could be released from prison on bail pending trial.

The announcement comes after prosecutors last week persuaded the court to block a federal judge's decision granting Dr. Lee bail after more than eight months in prison.

The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ordered the hearing closed to the public because it may involve the discussion of classified material.

The court has told the lawyers for the two sides that they should be prepared to make 15-minute presentations. It was unclear when the judges might then render a decision.

Dr. Lee was arrested and indicted last December on charges that he illegally downloaded a complete library of nuclear secrets to portable computer tapes with the intent of harming the United States. James A. Parker, a federal judge in Albuquerque, where the case is being heard, ruled at that time that he could not be released on bail because of government charges that he posed a grave threat to national security.

But at a hearing last month, an F.B.I. agent admitted that he had provided misleading testimony about Dr. Lee in December, and several experts disputed government assertions that the information Dr. Lee downloaded amounted to the "crown jewels" of the nuclear program. Judge Parker ordered Dr. Lee released to a highly restrictive form of home detention on $1 million bail. Prosecutors appealed and sought a stay of the bail decision until the appeal was heard.

The appeals court granted the government a temporary stay on Friday. If the appeals court lifts that stay, Dr. Lee would be released to home detention while the appeal of the bail order worked its way through the legal process, which can take months. Dr. Lee's trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 6.

  • The Wen Ho Lee Page