Saturday, March 18, 2006The judge in the U.S. federal death penalty trial against Zacarias Moussaoui ruled on Friday that prosecutors can seek replacement witnesses for seven Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees whose testimony was tainted, and therefore disallowed because of pre-trial coaching by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lawyer.
The 18-member jury (6 alternates) were sent home for a week while the court dealt with the revelation that government aviation security witness had been contacted prior to the trial by TSA lawyer Carla J. Martin, to help prepare their testimony in the case.
Martin, aged 51, is accused of misconduct by sending prosecution witnesses e-mail that included trial transcripts of another related case along with observations of her own that pertained to the Moussaoui case, including suggestions and talking points. She was recently suspended with pay by the TSA and retained Roscoe Howard to act as legal council in the face of legal actions that might arise against her.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema initially ruled to prevent testimony from any aviation employees, but reversed her decision after the prosecution argued they would have little case left if their testimony remained inadmissible. FAA employee testimony is expected to take the form of what measures would have been taken by the agency to prevent against the September 11, 2001 airliner attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. if Moussaoui had warned officials of the plan prior to the strikes.
The connection to the Carla Martin involvement in the case was discovered in a separate trial involving liability law suits against two U.S. airline companies for losses as a result of the attacks. Family member lawyers of flight attendants drew attention to contacts by Martin to persons involved in the case.
The jury will return Monday for the trial’s resumption.
A U.S. federal public defender appointed to Moussaoui argued for the jury to spare his life during opening statements on Monday, March 6, in the trial that will determine his fate — either life in prison or death by lethal injection.
Defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon said that Moussaoui “aspires to martyrdom,” and called on jurors to deny the Al-Qaeda operative his wish to die. A wish that would result in him becoming “a smiling face on a recruiting poster for Osama bin Laden,” MacMahon said.
Moussaoui is believed by some to be the missing member in the team of 19 other attackers that carried out the suicide airliner strikes in New York City and Washington D.C. Arrested in Minnesota on immigration charges three weeks prior to the attacks, Moussaoui could have warned officials of the pending attacks, but failed to do so, argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Spencer for the prosecution in opening statements.
The second day of the trial both Moussaoui and juror’s attention was riveted as a federal prosecutor read a radio transmission account of the exchange between a flight attendant on Flight 11 and ground controllers.
“We are flying low. We are flying very very low. We are flying way too low,” Amy Sweeney told controllers, according to an Associated Press report. The plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:44 a.m. after she said, “Oh my God, we are way too low!”
Moussaoui has claimed that he had no involvement with the 9/11 attacks when he pleaded guilty to:
- conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries
- conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy
- conspiracy to destroy aircraft
- conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction
- conspiracy to murder United States employees
- conspiracy to destroy property
He said that he was to play a role in another future attack on the White House using an aircraft. Four of the conspiracy charges each carry a maximum penalty of death.
Family members of the nearly 3,000 killed in the attacks were able to watch the Alexandria, Virginia courtroom proceedings by closed-circuit television in six U.S. cities: New York, Boston, Central Islip, N.Y., Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia.
Moussaoui has a history of disrupting previous trial proceedings with outbursts. He has disavowed his lawyers, and mostly ignored his mother who was present during the opening days of the trial because she had spoken to his defense lawyers.
Upon leaving the Tuesday, March 7 court session for a recess, Moussaoui pumped his right fist in the air and shouted, “Allah Akbar! God curse America! Bless Osama bin Laden!”
The outbursts have been timed to occur outside the earshot of Judge Brinkema and the jury as those persons filed out of the courtroom for recesses.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April last year to the conspiracy charges. Evidence linking him to the plot was discovered when his duffel bags were searched after the attacks.