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Iran repeals death sentence for former U.S. Marine

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Amir Hekmati on vacation in September 2010. (Courtesy of Amir Hekmati family, Yahoo News)

On Monday, Iran's supreme court vacated the death sentence for a former U.S. Marine held since August on suspicions of spying, Iranian state media reported.

In December, Iranian authorities accused Amir Hekmati, 28, a former U.S. Marine linguist from Michigan, of having come to Iran to spy for the CIA. But his family and friends as well as the U.S. government say the charges are bogus; his family contends that Hekmati went to Iran in August with the permission of the Iran "interests section," or its embassy-like body in Washington, D.C., to visit his elderly grandmothers. They expressed shock when an Iran revolutionary court reportedly sentenced Hekmati to death at a closed-door trial in January.

On Monday, Hekmati's sentence was overturned, Iran's judiciary said, but it gave little in the way of explanation.

"The supreme court nullified the execution sentence against Amir Mirza Hekmati and sent it to an affiliate court," said Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei to Iran's Fars News Agency on Monday, which Reuters reported. "Iran's judiciary said Hekmati admitted to having links with the CIA but denied any intention of harming Iran."

The State Department and a lawyer for Hekmati said Monday they were still working to confirm Iranian media reports that Hekmati's case had been referred for a retrial, but expressed tentative hope at the welcome developments.

"So if it is true that there will now be a retrial, this is a welcome development, and we hope that he will be reunited with his family soon," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists Monday.  "We have regrettably still not been able to have contact with him through the Swiss protecting power, nor have we heard this information through the Swiss protecting power."

A friend of the Hekmati family in Flint, Mich., told Yahoo News Monday that the family did not yet have more information on the developments.

Former U.S. Ambassador and attorney Pierre-Richard Prosper, who has been hired by the family of Amir Hekmati, 28, to assist with his case, told the Associated Press Monday that he is working to confirm details about the surprise developments.

"The family is not making any comments at this time, but as you can imagine, we are pleased with the reports coming out of Tehran," Eric Volz, a spokesman for the Prosper team on the Hekmati case, told Yahoo News by email Monday.

Prosper successfully helped negotiate the release of another Iranian-American jailed in Iran in 2010.

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