Accused spy Jerry Alfred Whitworth has written to a former high school teacher proclaiming his innocence and describing his arrest on espionage charges as "a giant misunderstanding."

In a letter written on July 9 from a California jail, where he is being held without bond, Whitworth, 45, said federal agents "particularly can't accept that I could be a friend of [accused spy John Anthony Walker Jr.] and not be involved with his alleged activities."

Whitworth's former high school teacher, Don Morton of Muldrow, Okla., Whitworth's home town, read the letter to a reporter. Morton complained that federal authorities had imposed overly stringent conditions that prevented Whitworth from attending the funeral yesterday of his 71-year-old mother, who was killed Monday in an automobile accident.

"He says he's not guilty and I believe him," said Morton. "He never saw a jail cell in his life." Morton suggested that Whitworth might have unwittingly provided information to John Walker, a Navy buddy and the alleged mastermind of the espionage ring of four Navy men.

Whitworth, a former senior chief radioman accused of receiving $328,000 from Walker, was indicted last month on one count of conspiring to commit espionage.

In the two-page, handwritten letter, Whitworth said he was "confident I'll be exonerated. In the meantime," said Whitworth, "I have to deal with jail and the problems it creates."

"How am I doing?" Whitworth wrote.

"Sure I've had some very low points and have gone through hell. But I've come through this thus far intact and I remain an optimist."

Morton said Whitworth's wife, doctoral student Brenda Reis, had come to Muldrow from the couple's home in Davis, Calif., to attend her mother-in-law's funeral.

In the letter, Whitworth said he was seeking to be released on bond "for Brenda's benefit."

He described his wife as "a jewel."