- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005


A federal judge is considering — for the second time in three years — whether to accept a guilty plea from Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person in the United States charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema’s decision is expected to hinge on whether she thinks Moussaoui is mentally competent to make the decision, lawyers who have followed the case said yesterday.

The judge summoned lawyers on both sides of the case to a closed courtroom in Alexandria yesterday to discuss a letter that Moussaoui sent the court indicating his desire to plead guilty. The letter’s contents are under seal, but a legal source said Moussaoui has indicated his desire to plead guilty. The source spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the letter has not been made public.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case declined to comment about the meeting. However, the source said Judge Brinkema plans to meet with Moussaoui sometime this week.

Among the issues the judge will have to consider in deciding whether to allow the plea is the strained relationship that Moussaoui has had with her and his lawyers since his indictment in December 2001, as well as his desire to use the legal proceedings to put U.S. foreign policy on trial.

?A judge has to be satisfied that the defendant is mentally fit to make such a plea and also to be sure that the defendant understands what his rights are, and that means having advice of counsel,? said Stephen Dycus, a professor at Vermont Law School.

In this case, Moussaoui often has been at odds with his court-appointed attorneys, accusing them of wanting to have him executed. He fired them, but Judge Brinkema kept them on a standby basis and later revoked Moussaoui’s right to defend himself.

His legal team has argued strenuously against the death penalty and is likely to oppose the guilty plea if it includes the possibility of a death sentence.

The government has accused Moussaoui of participating in an al Qaeda conspiracy to commit terrorism that included the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Moussaoui, a French citizen, tried to plead guilty in 2002, but took back the plea a week later.

His trial has been delayed three times. In March, the Supreme Court declined to review an appeals court ruling denying Moussaoui direct access to three al Qaeda witnesses who he thinks might support his contention that he was not involved with the September 11 planning.

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