ALEXANDRIA, Va. – They showed up, unannounced, to call John Walker Lindh a traitor. The mother, father and widow of slain CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann have a score to settle — and no hesitation about saying so.
"John Walker is a traitor because of the way he lived," Spann's mother, Gail, said Wednesday. "If you go back from the time he was 16 years old and just go through his history, you know, what more could I say? It's so simple and I hope that all Americans will feel the same way that I do."
She and Spann's father, Johnny, had traveled from Winfield, Ala., to see how Walker would respond to the allegations against him. The elder Spanns watched quietly alongside Spann's widow, Shannon. Their presence in the small courtroom and before reporters outside afterward made a dramatic statement as Walker proclaimed himself innocent of conspiring to kill Americans and supporting the Taliban and terrorist organizations.
Spann and Walker crossed paths in November in Afghanistan, in a prison where the young American Taliban soldier was being held with fellow fighters.
Spann and another CIA agent tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to interrogate Walker. Later that day, during an armed rebellion in which the prisoners took control of the compound, Spann became the war's first combat casualty.
Walker, meanwhile, disappeared with other captives into a prison basement where he was discovered almost a week later.
Spann's death left three young children without a father, including his and Shannon's 8-month-old son. Gail and Johnny Spann also now are raising their son's two young daughters from his first marriage, orphaned when their mother died of cancer five weeks after Spann was killed.
Though the government's indictment does not directly accuse Walker of killing Spann, it cites his presence at the bloody uprising as a reason for the murder conspiracy charge. If convicted on all 10 counts, Walker could end up with multiple life sentences.
Spann's widow said that would not be enough for a man who "dedicated his life" to waging war against the West and Americans. Shannon Spann — a CIA employee herself who lives in northern Virginia — would rather see Walker accused of treason, which could result in his execution.
"We expect Mr. Walker to be held personally responsible for all of the things that he has done," she said calmly. "Certainly I should have preferred the death penalty myself."
The defense contends Walker intended to fight the anti-Taliban northern alliance, not Americans.
But Spann's family made it clear that is not their view — and said they hope the court will agree. Spann's father said on ABC's Good Morning America he considers Walker responsible for his son's death as an accomplice.
"We sent our sons and our daughters and our husbands and our wives and our fathers and our mothers to a faraway land to fight this terrible evil so we could continue to live and enjoy the freedom that we live in today," Johnny Spann told reporters. "As we all know, freedom's not free. Bodies have come home draped with flags. Mike's was the first. ... Americans will not tolerate traitors."
After the legal proceeding, Walker's father, Frank, approached Spann's father in the crowded courthouse hallway. He tried to shake his hand, offer condolences and say his son was not involved in the younger Spann's death. Officials from the prosecutor's office, however, intervened to end the conversation.