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Convicted spy loses appeal over life sentence

A federal appeals court Friday rejected convicted spy Jonathan Pollard's latest attempt to reduce the life sentence.
Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C. in May 1998. He is 18 years into a life sentence for spying for Israel.Karl Deblaker / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal appeals court Friday rejected convicted spy Jonathan Pollard's latest effort to reduce the life sentence he received for selling military secrets to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst for the Navy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Pollard waited too long to try to contest his 1987 sentence and failed to make a convincing case that he got poor legal help.

Pollard's lawyers said they needed to see the material to rebut government arguments against any new appeal or against a request for presidential clemency.

Pollard faulted his original lawyer for not filing a notice of appeal in 1986 when the government, according to Pollard's lawyers, in effect sought a term of life imprisonment after promising it would not do so.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge David Sentelle rejected as "nonsensical" the argument that Pollard did not realize the alleged mistake by his lawyer at the time. "Pollard knew the facts," Sentelle said. "What he now claims not to have known is the legal significance of these facts."

Eliot Lauer, Pollard's attorney, said he was "very disappointed" with the opinion and may file a request for rehearing from the full appeals court or seek appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We hope that in time the American judicial system will give Jonathan Pollard his rightful day in court and that justice will be done," Lauer said.

The legal challenge to Pollard's sentence was always viewed as a long shot, and his supporters have focused much of their effort on winning presidential clemency.

Israel paid Pollard for classified documents
Pollard, who turns 51 next month, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he copied and gave to his Israeli handlers enough classified documents to fill a walk-in closet. He was not paid when his spying began in 1984, but acknowledged that Israel later began paying him a few thousand dollars a month.

He was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli embassy. Pollard initially denied he worked for Israel but later acknowledged it. He claims prosecutors reneged on a promise to seek a lesser sentence in return for his cooperation.

His case has been a sticking point in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israeli government, which granted Pollard citizenship, repeatedly has pressed for his release.

Lauer said Pollard does not have a formal request for clemency pending with the Bush administration. Federal officials reviewed his case in 2000, but he was left off the list of those granted clemency just before President Clinton left office. Pollard is being held at a federal prison in Butner, N.C.