WASHINGTON — A Washington D.C. couple who spent 30 years spying for Cuba are asking a federal judge to recommend that they be incarcerated near each other — but not in Florida, where they say the federal prisons "will likely have populations of Cuban-Americans who might react strongly to their offense.''
Walter and Gwendolyn Myers pleaded guilty in November to sending secrets to the United States' longtime antagonist. They are scheduled to be sentenced Friday before U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.
Walter Myers — a former State Department employee with top-secret clearance — agreed to a life sentence without parole and to cooperate with the federal government in a deal that offered his wife a much lighter sentence than the 20 years she might have faced at trial.
In court documents filed late Friday, the couple's defense attorneys are asking Walton to sentence Gwendolyn Myers to the low end of the plea deal -- six years, rather than seven and a half years.
"The eighteen-month difference between 72 and 90 months could potentially represent a significant percentage of her remaining life span,'' her lawyers wrote, noting that Gwendolyn Myers, whom they portray as a doting grandmother, will be 72 on Friday and has suffered cardiac complications, including a heart attack since her incarceration last June.
In arguing for a lighter sentence, her attorneys note that although Gwendolyn Myers "shared her husband's political beliefs, she had no capacity to commit the offense on her own.''
They include letters of support from friends, former employees and family members who plead for leniency.
"Mrs. Myers has positively impacted each community in which she has lived, and herrelease from prison would allow her to continue contributing to those around her, starting with, but by no means limited to, her extended family,'' her attorneys wrote.
They argued that she and Kendall Myers "within days of their arrest'' offered to cooperate with the government and have undergone nearly 100 debriefings with the FBI and other intelligence agencies. They noted that Gwendolyn Myers has worked as a teacher's assistant in the jail's life-skills class, helping teach other inmates.
Government prosecutors, however, are asking for the maximum sentence, with U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen writing that the couple "committed one of the worst crimes a citizen can perpetrate against his or her own country — espionage on behalf of a long-standing foreign adversary.''
In addition, he noted that "without Gwendolyn Myers's deference to, if not active support and encouragement of, seemingly everything her husband did, Kendall Myers's desire to become a Cuban spy 30 years ago may well have been short-lived.''
At one point, he calls her "far more than just a knowing wife of a spy,'' noting that they both were recruited by Cuban intelligence and that she, like her husband, had a code name supplied by the Cubans. "He was Agent 202. She was Agent 123,'' Machen wrote. "She not only supported and encouraged her husband's theft of U.S. secrets from the Department of State, but she also actively engaged in their espionage.''
Machen argued that her "criminal culpability'' was greater than other past spouses of spies, including Rosario Ames, the wife of Russian spy Aldrich Ames, and Anne Case Pollard, the wife of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
"Unlike Gwendolyn Myers, neither Rosario Ames nor Anne Pollard decrypted coded messages from, assisted in the transmission of classified information to, nor had repeated, substantive operational meets with, the foreign intelligence service at issue,'' he said.
Machen also suggested that Walter Myers was not always forthcoming during the briefings, which remain classified. He wrote that the couple was "generally outwardly cooperative'' during the briefings and never refused to attend a session.
But he said, "there were times when the FBI assessed that Kendall Myers, in particular, gave inconsistent or uncooperative responses or was intentionally withholding information.''
The pair is asking that Walton recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that they be incarcerated in facilities near each other, to allow their siblings, their six children, and seven grandchildren to visit them. They suggest placing Gwendolyn Myers in the Satellite Camp in Lexington, Ky., and Walter Kendall Myers in an adjacent Administrative Facility.
Or alternatively, that Walter Myers be placed at the U. S. penitentiary formale inmates in Atwater, Calif., and Gwendolyn Myers at the Federal Correctional Institution for women in Dublin, California.
"Such proximity also means something to Dr. and Mrs. Myers personally: both will derivesome comfort from knowing the other is not physically far away. In light of the depth of the emotional bonds of their marriage — a relationship numerous letter writers comment upon asexceptionally loving and close.''
They also are asking that Walton recommend that the prison allow him to continue to teach fellow inmates and "continue his scholarly writing,'' noting that he is working on a book on.
"At all turns, they have attempted to benefit in some small way their fellow inmates and to salvage some larger good from their situation. Their behavior has reflected theirdetermination, as they serve out their punishments, to use their talents in the service of others. Their conduct since their arrest is entirely consistent with the idealism that brought them before this court."
< MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow McClatchy on Twitter.