9/11 conspirator could face death penalty
WASHINGTON - Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person in the United States charged in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, plans to plead guilty to charges that could bring him the death penalty, officials said Wednesday.
The government has charged Moussaoui with being part of an al-Qaida conspiracy to commit terrorism that included the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Moussaoui, a French citizen, could face the death penalty, although his sentence would be determined in a separate legal proceeding that would follow any plea. Federal prosecutors plan to pursue the death penalty at that time, said one of the government officials.
Moussaoui attorney Frank Dunham Jr. said he would not comment.
The case has been marked by delays, protracted arguments over access to al-Qaida members in U.S. custody and erratic, belligerent communications from Moussaoui himself. Moussaoui tried to plead guilty in 2002, but took the plea back a week later.
The indictment accuses Moussaoui of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, commit aircraft piracy, destroy aircraft, murder government employees and destroy property. The first four charges carry a maximum sentence of death.
Brinkema met with Moussaoui on Wednesday, the government officials said. After the meeting, the court issued a statement saying she planned to accept his guilty plea.
Lawyers who have followed the case said Brinkema's decision to accept Moussaoui's admission of guilt would hinge on whether she believed he is mentally competent to make the plea, which his court-appointed lawyers have opposed.
The trial has been delayed three times. Last month, the Supreme Court declined to review an appeals court ruling denying Moussaoui direct access to three al-Qaida witnesses, who he said might support his contention that he was not involved with the Sept. 11 planning. The court also allowed the government to seek the death penalty.
Eliminating a trial would spare Brinkema the difficult task of working with prosecutors and defense lawyers to craft unclassified summaries of statements by the three al-Qaida prisoners ¡ª the compromise courts created to allow Moussaoui some access to their testimony.
In his handwritten filings, Moussaoui has railed against the U.S. government, Brinkema and his lawyers. In 2003, Brinkema stripped him of his right to defend himself, saying his legal filings "include contemptuous language that would never be tolerated from an attorney and will no longer be tolerated from this defendant."
In one of his last filings before the judge revoked his right to defend himself, Moussaoui said he wanted "anthrax for Jew sympathizer only," called then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is a Republican, "the Democratic Jerk" and referred to Brinkema as "Leonie you Despotically Judge."