The Justice Department has "reluctantly" decided not to pursue the death penalty against accused FBI spy Robert Hanssen, a government source said Friday.
"The Justice Department reluctantly took the death penalty off the table," a source has told Fox News, confirming reports in Friday's Washington Post. The source said Attorney General John Ashcroft was personally involved in the decision to remove the possibility of execution in Hanssen's case.
The government has alleged that Hanssen passed secrets to Moscow for 15 years in exchange for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds. The FBI said it obtained original Russian documents that detailed Hanssen's activities, including letters he allegedly wrote to his Russian handlers and codes he allegedly used to signal when and where he would drop documents.
Prosecutors say Hanssen's actions led to the deaths of two double agents. Fourteen of the charges against him are punishable by death.
Hanssen was arrested Feb. 18 at a Virginia park as he delivered a package that authorities say was meant for his Russian handlers.
He pleaded not guilty May 31 to all charges.
The government and Hanssen's attorneys have agreed to an Oct. 29 date for a jury trial and plan to submit a joint request for a proposed schedule of pretrial filings and discovery.
Hanssen's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, said last month that he had reached an impasse with prosecutors over a plea bargain because the government refused to waive the death penalty in exchange for his client's cooperation. Sources also say that Hanssen's attorneys sought a sentence of less than life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea, and that's something the government refused to agree to.
The Justice Department has usually decided to forgo a full trial in spy cases because a trial raises the prospect of prosecutors having to reveal sensitive information in open court. For instance, Hanssen allegedly disclosed how the United States was intercepting Soviet satellite transmissions and the means by which the United States would retaliate against a nuclear attack.
Randy Bellows, assistant U.S. attorney and a lead prosecutor in the case, has said he would submit motions for dealing with classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act, a law which provides a mechanism for courts to determine what classified information can be used as evidence.
Most modern spy cases have ended with deals in which the defendants have agreed to plead guilty and tell the government about their activities in exchange for lesser sentences.
Fox News' Bryan Sierra and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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