Racial bias, secrecy, and the military judge's attitude on sentencing were the first issues raised as the court-martial of United States Marine Corps Sgt. Clayton Lonetree opened here yesterday. Charged with espionage, Sergeant Lonetree could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. Another charge - that he permitted KGB agents to enter the US Embassy in Moscow, an act that could have resulted in a death sentence - was dropped.
Sergeant Lonetree is an American Indian, and defense attorney Michael F. Stuhff began the proceedings by asking the judge, Navy Capt. Philip F. Roberts, about his attitude toward native Americans. The soft-spoken native of Sioux Falls, S.D., replied that he had had little contact with Indians and had perceived no special community attitude toward them.
Captain Roberts was also asked about a purported tendency toward stiff sentences. He said he knew nothing about such perceptions of his sentencing practices.
Lonetree's other civilian lawyer, William Kunstler, asked Roberts if he had any prejudices against him because of his notoriety. The judge said no.
The beginning of the court-marital was delayed for some 30 minutes by a power failure. After a short public session, the trial went into closed session to discuss how classified evidence and classified witness testimony is to be treated.
A media center was set up near the small courtroom at the Quantico Marine Corps Base, and access to the trial was controlled through a closed-circuit television hook-up into the center.
Lonetree - flanked by two of his defense attorneys, Maj. David H. Henderson and Capt. Andrew Strotman - asked for a trial by a panel of officers, declining the option to have enlisted men participate.
His mother, father, grandmother, and an aunt were at the trial. Emerging after the morning session, Spencer G. Lonetree said that at first he did not think racism was a factor in his son's case, but that after three black marines and his son were charged with espionage, while the white marines involved were charged only with fraternization with Russians, he had changed his mind. He said that his son is still a very dedicated marine.
Mr. Kunstler said earlier that the only thing his client is guilty of is not reporting a romance with a Soviet woman, and that even reporting it may have been unnecessary.
``He exposed several KGB operatives to the government,'' Kunstler said of the St. Paul, Minn., resident. ``I think he should get a medal.''
He also said Lonetree disclosed during interrogations much that the government did not know and cooperated with the investigation into embassy security.
Before the court-martial convened, Mr. Kunstler said in a telephone interview that the prosecutors ``want to claim this is all classified,'' while the defense is fighting to ``have everything open.''
He said he planned to ask for a continuance of the trial so that defense lawyers could go to Moscow and conduct their own investigation.
Information turned over to the defense team by the Navy prosecutors is ``highly exonerative of Lonetree,'' said Kunstler.
He also said Lonetree's interrogators ``dickered with him on the question of becoming a double agent.'' Lonetree, said Kunstler, ``is a bug on spy stories. He lives in a fantasy world. They [Naval Investigative Service and Central Intelligence Agency agents] indulged Lonetree's fantasies.''
Kunstler charged in the interview that Lonetree was arrested on Dec. 15, 1986, and interrogated until the 29th, but was not given any ``Miranda warning'' (informing him of his right to counsel and not to answer to questions) until the 24th.
It takes a two-thirds vote of the court panel to convict and two-thirds to render the sentence - three-fourths if over 10 years. If less than two-thirds vote guilty, the defendant is to be acquitted.
Lonetree is charged with providing blueprints, floor plans, and information about office assignments at the embassies in Vienna and Moscow and with revealing the identities of US intelligence agents.
Lonetree's attorneys have filed a motion to have statements the marine made to agents of the CIA and the Naval Investigative Service be excluded from the court-martial. They also say that Lonetree, arrested on Dec. 15, 1986, was interrogated for four days before being given a ``Miranda warning'' (informing him of his right to remain silent).