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Judge Unexpectedly Halts Moussaoui Trial

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/moussaoui;_ylt=ArKNLufqVHC341gVbDuetESs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA2Z2szazkxBHNlYwN0bQ-- Judge Unexpectedly Halts Moussaoui Trial By MICHAEL J.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 13, 2006

      Judge Unexpectedly Halts Moussaoui Trial

      By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour,
      1 minute ago

      ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An angry federal judge considered
      Monday whether to dismiss the government's death
      penalty case against confessed al-Qaida conspirator
      Zacarias Moussaoui after a federal attorney coached
      witnesses in violation of her rules.

      "I do not want to act precipitously," U.S. District
      Judge Leonie Brinkema said in scheduling a special
      hearing on the case Tuesday, but she said that it was
      "very difficult for this case to go forward."

      Brinkema said a lawyer for the Transportation Security
      Administration sent e-mail to seven Federal Aviation
      Administration officials outlining the prosecution's
      opening statements and providing commentary on
      government witnesses from the first day of testimony.
      That was in violation of her pretrial order barring
      witnesses from exposure to any opening statements or
      trial testimony.

      "An attorney for the TSA ... egregiously breached that
      order," she told jurors before excusing them until
      Wednesday. Of the seven, three were to testify for the
      government and four were potential defense witnesses.

      Government officials identified the attorney as Carla

      Brinkema wanted to hear Tuesday from the seven and
      from the attorney who contacted them to help her
      decide whether to throw out the government's case. If
      she does, Moussaoui would escape the possibility of
      execution and be sentenced to life in prison without
      chance of parole.

      She said the rule against witnesses hearing testimony
      in advance is "a very important protection of the
      truth-seeking process."

      Moussaoui appeared bemused as the lawyers debated how
      to proceed. Leaving the courtroom, he said, "The show
      must go on."

      The stunning development came at the opening of the
      fifth day of the trial after the government informed
      the judge and the defense over the weekend of the
      attorney's contact.

      "This is the second significant error by the
      government affecting the constitutional rights of this
      defendant and more importantly the integrity of the
      criminal justice system of the United States in the
      context of a death case," Brinkema told lawyers
      outside the presence of the jury.

      Defense attorney Edward MacMahon moved to have the
      judge dismiss the death penalty as a possible outcome,
      saying "this is not going to be a fair trial." In the
      alternative, he said, at least she should excuse the
      government's FAA witnesses from the case.

      Prosecutor David Novak replied that removing the FAA
      witnesses would "exclude half the government's case."
      Novak suggested instead that the problem could be
      fixed by a vigorous cross-examination by the defense.

      But Brinkema said she would need time to study what to

      "In all the years I've been on the bench, I have never
      seen such an egregious violation of a rule on
      witnesses," she said.

      The defense did not move for a mistrial, which would
      have restarted the proceedings.

      Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country
      with the 9/11 attacks. He pleaded guilty in April to
      conspiring with al-Qaida to hijack planes and to other
      crimes, but he denies any role in 9/11. He says he was
      training for a possible future attack.

      Brinkema noted that Thursday, Novak asked a question
      that she ruled out of order after the defense said the
      question should result in a mistrial. In that
      question, Novak suggested that Moussaoui might have
      had some responsibility to go back to the FBI, after
      he got a lawyer, and then confess his terrorist ties.

      Brinkema warned the government at that point that it
      was treading on shaky legal ground because she knew of
      no case where a failure to act resulted in a death
      penalty as a matter of law.

      Even prosecutor Novak conceded that the witness
      coaching was "horrendously wrong."

      Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declined comment on
      the developments.

      MacMahon said the government had told the defense that
      the TSA attorney had wanted the witnesses to be very
      careful in discussing the FBI agent's acknowledgment
      that the FBI knew long before Sept. 11, 2001, that
      al-Qaida terrorists in the Philippines were working on
      a plan to fly an airplane into CIA headquarters.

      The federal attorney also apparently told the
      witnesses — erroneously, Novak said — that the
      government was planning to say that magnetometers at
      airport check-ins are 100 percent effective.

      Novak claimed there was no harm in that disclosure
      because the government is not going to make that

      Before the trial was recessed by Brinkema, the jury
      was to hear from the Minneapolis FBI agent who
      arrested Moussaoui — perhaps the key witness in the

      Special Agent Harry Samit's testimony is equally
      important to prosecutors and the defense at
      Moussaoui's sentencing trial. Samit, who has already
      testified for the prosecution, faced

      Prosecutors say Samit and the FBI would have foiled
      the Sept. 11 attacks had Moussaoui confessed his
      membership in the al-Qaida terror network and his
      plans to hijack an airplane after he was arrested on
      Aug. 16, 2001, and interrogated by Samit.

      The defense argues Moussaoui's lies made no difference
      because Samit saw through them and was convinced
      Moussaoui was a threat.

      Up to now the burden of proof was this: To obtain the
      death penalty, prosecutors must first prove that
      Moussaoui's actions — specifically, his lies_ were
      directly responsible for at least one death on Sept.


      EDITOR'S NOTE: AP writer Matthew Barakat contributed
      to this story.
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