- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

American Taliban member John Walker is scheduled today to become the latest high-profile defendant routed through the "Rocket Docket" the nickname among lawyers for Alexandria's Eastern District Court of Virginia.
The Eastern District Court, where a welcome sign posted outside the courtroom reads "Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied," is a favorite of federal prosecutors, who appreciate the court's track record of expediency and its reputation for tough, no-nonsense judges and juries.
Accused spy Robert Hanssen has been through its doors. So has convicted traitor Aldrich Ames. Zacarias Moussaoui, who federal officials believe was the 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks, will be tried there later this year.
Walker is the American found wounded in November in the bloody prison uprising near the Afghanistan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. During the uprising, American CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Walker, who arrived under heavy guard at Washington Dulles International Airport last night, is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. before Magistrate Welton Curtis Sewell, who will advise Walker of his rights and ask whether he wants a lawyer but will not seek a plea in the case.
Judge Sewell could also set court dates for future appearances.
Lawyers hired by Walker's family were in the area yesterday, and said they were trying to make arrangements to meet with Walker "as soon as possible." If Walker declines their services, which is his right, an attorney will be appointed by the court.
Mr. McNulty, the chief prosecutor for the court, will oversee both the Moussaoui and the Walker cases. He said the decision to bring Moussaoui to Virginia probably influenced the decision to bring Walker here as well.
"Because of the Moussaoui decision, because the case involved some of the same things and is close to the national government, [Walker was brought here]" he said.
Mr. McNulty said since the terrorist attacks hit New York and Virginia, they were the only two places Walker likely would have gone.
The decision to route the cases to Northern Virginia's "Rocket Docket" should come as no surprise, legal authorities said.
"It's a good district for prosecutors," said former U.S. Attorney Mark Hulkower, who prosecuted the Ames trial.
"From the government's standpoint it makes perfect sense," he added. "You have a jury pool with large numbers of current or former government employees. You have prosecutors used to dealing with complex high-profile cases, judges experienced in high-profile cases involving classified materials."
Lawyers who practice in the court say Northern Virginia jurors are generally well-educated and informed. They'll give the young Californian-turned-Taliban a fair trial but are unlikely to be taken in by courtroom theatrics.
"Mr. Walker is a prime candidate for a guilty plea," said Joseph E. diGenova, another former U.S. attorney. "He should be a government witness against Osama bin Laden. This is probably a place he would rather not be tried."
"You have an intelligent jury pool which gives the government, and the defense, a fair trial," Mr. diGenova said. "It's always been that way. And they are generally what we would call solid citizens."
Justice for both Walker and Moussaoui will likely be swift.
The Alexandria court, under the stewardship of Chief Judge Claude M. Hilton and nine associate justices, earned its nickname for the tight deadlines for both sides in criminal cases. An old joke around the courthouse is that a lawyer has to collapse bleeding before the bench to win a delay in the schedule.
When it comes to dispatching felony cases, the "Rocket Docket" ranked 11th fastest of the more than 90 federal courts in the country last year, with an average of just over five months. The average in the District is just over 7 months, making it 48th. New York, the only other obvious choice for trials relating to the terrorist attacks, ranks down toward the bottom, at 94th, with an average 131/2 months.
According to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 15 at the Alexandria courthouse, Walker is charged with conspiring to kill U.S. citizens. The complaint said he trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and was thanked personally by Osama bin Laden for joining the battle.
Also known as John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old faces additional charges of providing material support and resources to terrorists and of engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban.
None of the charges call for the death penalty, although he could be sentenced to life in prison.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush believes that most Americans feel that Walker's return to this country means that he "will now get the justice he deserves."
Legal observers also predicted that any terrorist trials in the Alexandria courthouse would be cathartic for area residents directly affected by the attacks. It was reported that many Oklahoma City residents felt deprived when Timothy McVeigh was tried in Denver.
Robert Turner, co-founder of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, said the suburban Washington location makes sense for the Walker case and the other high-profile trials as well. "There is some logic in going to a place where the people already know the game," Mr. Turner said. "I don't see this as a nefarious thing, it just seems logical."
Mr. diGenova agreed, saying that "Historically the Eastern District of Virginia has been known as a conservative jury pool. Not necessarily a pro-government crowd, but willing to give the government a fair trial."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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