free," said Wen Ho Lee's attorney, as they walked out of the
federal courtroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Sign my shirt!"
asked a man with a felt pen, and the attorney obliged as the
wispy nuclear scientist, now a convicted felon, smiled shyly.
under a sun that was too hot, the US Attorneys who had prosecuted
the case stood at acluster of microphones to answer questions.
Finally willing to speak to the media after months of offering
no comment, they doggedly stated and re-stated their position,
the sweat rolling down their faces.
the prosecutors gave way to the victorious Dr. Lee, who walked
the media gauntlet while cradled under the arm of Mark Holscher,
one of his lawyers. The diminutive center of attention made
his now-famous declaration: "I'm going fishing!"
working on this story since March 8, 1999 when Wen Ho Lee was
dismissed from Los Alamos National Laboratory. I'd stood across
the street from his home in the rain, wind and snow, hoping
to get a response from the naturalized citizen from China.
reporter named Sergio Quintana shot some video of Dr. Lee about
a month later, as the accused scientist wandered in his front
yard, wearing a goofy fishing hat while the F.B.I. searched
interviewed Wen Ho Lee and 'Dateline' went fishing with him,
grabbing shots of federal agents dashing between trees on the
Chama River. CNN profiled the Lee children, Alberta and Chung.
We got the
word in December that Wen Ho Lee would be indicted, and stood
on the curb, waiting for a couple of days, until federal agents
took him into custody. ("Have you been indicted?" pipes my voice
on the video clip. At least I didn't ask him, "How do you feel?").
two bail hearings in U.S. District court in December 1999 in
Albuquerque. A third bail hearing was heard in August 2000.
When F.B.I. Agent Robert Messemer recanted his testimony from
earlier hearings, the road to Wen Ho Lee's release began to
hearing, scheduled for one morning, dragged on for three days.
During lunch, courtroom sketch artist Amy Stein described her
drawing technique to a few reporters. Amy peers at her subject
in the courtroom through binoculars, getting "up close and personal"
with the face and psyche of each person she draws. Her insights
intrigued the writers who were already fascinated with the personalities
of those who speak in court, and those who listen attentively
as their fate seesaws on the scales of justice.
District Court, we tried the snack room where green chile was
served with almost every dish. Staci Cohen, the Lee's designated
family spokesman, explained to me why she was angry at 'Good
Morning America.' I thought it best to distance myself from
that programI am working for World News Tonight, thank
you very much.
the lawyers debated semantics, differing on the precise meaning
of an "attachment" to a search warrant. Feeling heavy lidded,
I asked a reporter to wake me if I started drooling in my sleep.
I've had enough brushes with detention on assignment to make
me really want to avoid being in contempt of court.
the hearing progressed, a Washington producer asked me for a
headshot of Judge James A. Parker. I arranged to pick up a glossy.
Judge Parker's deputies buzzed me through two sets of doors,
and lent me their only 4"x6" print. I copied it and brought
it back to the court. In walked Judge Parker, so I said "hi"
and we had a short conversation. Then I asked him to autograph
one of the headshots.
became more arcane and tedious, the out of town press phoned
their travel desks during each recess, to change their flights
home. They moved back their flights, and back again, until everyone
gave up the early flight home that would have enabled them to
be with their kid, or to start their family vacation.
my pager went off in court, (in vibrate mode, of course) and
I stepped out of the courtroom to make my call. It was Steve
Northup, a friend of mine from Santa Fe. "Are you in court?"
he asked. "I figured you would be and I was wondering if you
could give me directions." Steve was assigned to shoot a picture
of Wen Ho Lee's daughter Alberta, for a New York Times portrait.
During the next recess, I told the New York Times reporter,
"Your photographer is on his way." "How did you know that?"
"This," I replied, "is a small town."
the course of the Wen Ho Lee case, I called the Assistant U.S.
Attorney George Stamboulidis several times a week. He took my
calls, but was consistent in replying "no comment." I asked
about procedure, about plea bargains, about the prosecution's
case. "No comment," he said. During the hearing I hopped in
the elevator with the Assistant U.S. Attorney. So did other
reporters, who peppered him with questions. Finally, Stamboulidis
pointed to me and says, "ask her." Inquiring minds turned
to me as I recited, "No Comment."
A day in
September, another hearing for Wen Ho Lee. I was working with
two freelance crews, looking for a grab shot of the arrival
of the convoy bringing Dr. Lee to court, from prison. I got
a call from the assignment editor at channel 7, our affiliate
who said, "Look for a green Ford LTD." I heard a helicopter
and told my crew the convoy would soon arrive. They grabbed
the shot, and I called Channel 7 to advise them that their information
was good. "How did you know that he was in that car?" I asked.
"Oh, we were watching it on TV, on Channel 4," he told me.
10, I was just home from a horseback ride when my cell phone
rang. Judge Parker's clerk told me that a guilty plea had been
filed. Unable to reach any of the principals on the phone, I
hurried downtown to try to confirm that it would be one felony
count. The defense attorneys' law office was closed. I decided
to check for activity at the U.S. Attorney's office. There I
noticed the F.B.I. agent who changed his testimony. I walked
with him for several blocks, having another one of my one-sided
conversations, in which I asked many questions, and heard no
to my car, just in time to see the U.S. Attorney for the District
of New Mexico standing on the street corner in something resembling
running shorts. I strolled over in my old t-shirt, and horrible
baggy pants, for a chat. The U.S. Attorney did not dash away.
"This is a small town, " I concluded. Actually this is a town
where Domino's doesn't deliver pizza to the ninth floor of the
U.S. Attorney's office. Norman Bay was waiting for a car to
pull up with one sausage and one mushroom pizza. Second Street
in downtown Albuquerque was quiet, except for one field producer
talking to a prosecutor waiting for pizza.
14th. Wen Ho Lee was a free man, and his attorneys
and family arrived for their live shots on Good Morning America.
Staci Cohen was present, but the grudge against GMA had been
left behind. I was gratified when defense attorney Mark Holscher
told Charlie Gibson, by satellite before the shot, "I'm only
up this early because Amy is so nice." "Who is Amy?" was Charlie's
reply. New York City is not a small town.
September, I stopped by Wen Ho Lee's residence near Los Alamos
with an offering for Dr. Lee. He had requested extra fruit during
his long incarceration that is now being investigated in Senate
Hearings. I gave Mrs. Lee a bowl of fruit, and apologized for
standing in front of their house for a year and a half. I explained
that I had been doing my job, but I felt sorry to have to do
it that way.
and please thank everyone at ABC," she said. Again, I explained
that there is no need to thank me, that it was part of my job.
I have the
feeling I'll be seeing Wen Ho Lee's attorneys, the convicted
scientist, the witnesses, the F.B.I. Agents, and probably the
Judge again. This is a small town.