WASHINGTON — INDEPENDENT counsel Lawrence Walsh has announced that he will seek to have two of the Iran-contra convictions against former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North restored through what promises to be an exhaustive court-ordered process. Mr. Walsh's action followed a US Supreme Court announcement on Tuesday that it had refused without comment to review a 2-1 decision of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which set aside two of Mr. North's convictions and overturned the third on grounds he did not get a fair trial.
"We are, of course, disappointed that the Supreme Court would not take the North case at this time," Mr. Walsh said Tuesday. "We shall proceed with the remand in accordance with the decision of the court of appeals."
Walsh must conduct a witness by witness review of the 89 people who testified before the grand jury that indicted North and of the 32 trial witnesses to determine the content and sources of their testimony. If the court finds that any witness at trial used North's earlier immunized testimony before Congress in any fashion, and that the error was not "harmless," a new trial would be ordered.
If a witness at the grand jury stage is found to have used the immunized testimony in more than a "harmless" manner, the charges must be dropped.
The review of evidence ordered by the circuit court would "far exceed" North's 12-week 1989 trial in both "length and complexity," Walsh said.
North's lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, called the decision to continue the prosecution "outrageous" and accused Walsh of recanting on a private promise not to pursue charges if he lost at the Supreme Court.
Walsh spokeswoman Mary Belcher said there had been no agreement to drop the charges.
Walsh's Iran-contra prosecutions already have cost more than $25 million, she said.
Walsh's appeal centered on what steps the government must take to ensure that testimony compelled under a grant of immunity before congressional investigators is not later used at a criminal trial.
The circuit court ruled that the government violated North's Fifth Amendment rights by forcing him to testify before Congress in 1987 after granting him immunity, and later trying him on 12 related counts without ensuring witnesses were not influenced by North's immunized testimony.
On May 4, 1989, North, a former National Security Council aide, was convicted of three felony counts for his role in the Iran-contra scandal, which involved the secret shipment of arms to Iran in an effort to free US hostages.
The profits from the sale were funneled to the Nicaraguan contra rebels when such aid was banned by Congress.
North was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term, two years' probation conditioned on performing 1,200 hours of community service, and a $150,000 fine.
In other action, the Supreme Court:
*-Made it easier for prosecutors to exclude Hispanics, and anyone else who is bilingual, from juries in criminal cases. The 6-3 ruling upheld an attempted murder conviction against a New York City Hispanic who said Hispanics were excluded unlawfully from the jury.
Prosecutors said bilingual jurors might not trust English translations of testimony given in Spanish.
*-Unanimously threw out the murder conviction of a South Carolina death-row inmate charged in the killing of a woman in a robbery.
It was the second time the justices have ruled against the conviction.
*-Broadened the scope of federal antitrust law, ruling 5-4 that an eye surgeon who was denied staff privileges at a Los Angeles hospital may have been the victim of an anticompetitive business scheme.
*-Left intact a Georgia law that limits access by children to sexually explicit material in bookstores.