Wen Ho Lee Freed After Guilty Plea

ByABC News
September 13, 2000, 6:51 AM

Sept. 13 -- Apologizing for unfair treatment by government officials, a federal judge today freed a grateful Wen Ho Lee from nine months of imprisonment as the fired Los Alamos scientist pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified data.

U.S. District Judge James Parker in Albuquerque, N.M., scolded the top decision-makers in the Departments of Justice and Energy as he sentenced Lee to 278 days one day less than time served.

I sincerely apologize to you, Dr. Lee, for the unfair mannerin which you were held in custody by the executive branch, Parkertold him. The executive branch has enormouspower, the abuse of which can be devastating to citizens. They have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it.

Lee left the courtroom shortly after his sentencing to reunite with hisfamily in private. He did not show any bitterness after being held in solitary confinement for nine months.

I am very happy to go home with my wife and my children today and I want to say thank you to all the people who supported me, Lee told reporters outside the courthouse. For the next few days, I am going fishing.

The former Los Alamos scientist pleaded guilty to having unauthorized possession of, access to, and control over documents and writings relating to the national defense. He was initially charged with 59 counts of mishandling nuclear secrets and could have faced life in prison if convicted.

After months of investigation, the government ultimately had to settle for a plea deal when it became clear their case against Lee lacked merit. The governments case began to crumble last month at a bail hearing where experts testified that most of the information that Lee improperly handled was already known. In addition, an FBI witness admitted that he had given inaccurate testimony that incorrectly made Lee appear deceptive.

In court, Lee read a statement admitting he used an unsecured computer to download information relating to national defense onto tapes. He said he knew his possession of the tapes outside of the top-secret area where he worked was unauthorized.