Lindh pleads innocent to conspiracy

Thursday, February 14, 2002

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- John Walker Lindh pleaded innocent Wednesday to conspiring to kill Americans, then was denounced as a traitor in an emotional outpouring outside court by the family of a slain CIA officer who had questioned him in Afghanistan.

"Not guilty, sir," Lindh told the judge, in a routine arraignment that was followed by an awkward encounter between two fathers inside the courthouse and the strong statements outside. The CIA officer's widow said Lindh should be sentenced to death.

When the proceeding ended, Lindh's father, Frank, tried to shake hands with Johnny Spann, father of slain CIA agent Johnny Micheal Spann. The officer was killed in a prison uprising in Afghanistan that occurred shortly after he had questioned Lindh and other captured soldiers.

As Frank Lindh started to say that he was sorry about Spann's death and that his son had nothing to do with the killing, officials from the U.S. attorney's office stopped the encounter. "We were trying to get the family out without anyone speaking to them," said spokeswoman Sam Dibbley.

Johnny Spann, his wife, Gail, and the officer's widow, Shannon, then went outside to denounce John Walker Lindh to reporters.

"Certainly I should have preferred the death penalty myself," Shannon Spann said. "We expect Mr. Walker to be personally held responsible for all the things he's done. My view today is certainly that he should have been charged with treason."

Gail Spann added, "John Walker is a traitor because of the way he lived. It's so simple and I hope that all Americans will feel the same way that I do."

"Tell them, Americans will not tolerate traitors," Johnny Spann said.

Lindh is charged with conspiring to kill Americans, providing support to terrorist organizations including al-Qaida and using firearms during crimes of violence. None of the charges carry the death penalty. Three counts have a maximum life term and the other seven could add up to 90 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he wanted the trial to begin in late August or September, and scheduled a hearing for Friday to set a date. The judge rejected a joint proposal by the prosecution and defense for a delay until mid-November, saying that was too far away.

Lindh appeared with his head shaved in his two initial court appearances, but his black hair is starting to grow back. Still, his clean-shaven appearance is a sharp contrast to the full beard and long hair seen in televised images of him from Afghanistan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows expects the case to take two weeks.

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