A federal judge has expressed reservations about granting a Marine reservist's request to declare him a conscientious objector after he refused to fight in the Persian Gulf war.

Lance Cpl. Erik Larsen, 23, of Hayward, Calif., is being held at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina along with two dozen other Marine war resisters facing potential court martial for desertion.Larsen served two weeks last summer at Dugway Proving Grounds.

Although he has not been formally charged with desertion during wartime, the government has stated in court papers Larsen could face the maximum penalty of death for his refusal to fight.

Robert Rivkin, Larsen's lawyer said, "We hope they are not serious but when the put it in legal papers you have to be a little fearful."

After hearing an explanation of the incomplete proceedings, Larsen said in a statement issued through his attorney, "I choose to adhere to my Marine training. Death before dishonor."

Rivkin said Larsen means "he is not going to be intimidated into renouncing his conscientious objector claim as others have been."

Larsen, assigned as a missile radar mechanic, boldly announced during an anti-war protest in August outside the Chevron headquarters in San Francisco that he would refuse to fight for "big oil" or any orders sending him to Saudi Arabia.

In a courtroom packed with anti-war activists and Larsen supporters, Rivkin argued the Marine was improperly denied conscientious objector status by the Marine Corps commandant, who declared his motives "purely political."

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker took no action, but he indicated he was prepared to deny Larsen's request based on reasons other than the Marine commandant's. But Walker said he may not have legal authority to look outside the rationale cited by the commandant.

Walker said, if he is legally limited to basing his decision on the political motivation finding by the Marine Corps, there may have been insufficient basis for the Marine Corps to deny Larsen the conscientious objector status.

Walker sent the government lawyers back to the law books and told them to return with an explanation of whether he is limited to the Marine Corps findings or whether he can act on his own findings.

Walker indirectly questioned Larsen's sincerity, noting the Marine served voluntarily for two weeks last summer at Dugway.