- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

A federal judge in the death penalty trial of admitted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui yesterday said the jury could listen to the cockpit recording from the hijacked airliner that crashed into a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001 — the first public airing of the tape.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said the jury of nine men and three women considering whether Moussaoui should be executed in his guilty plea to conspiring with the September 11 hijackers could hear the United Airlines Flight 93 recording and read the transcript.

The tape was played privately in April 2002 for the family members of those who died when Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., killing 37 passengers and seven crew members. It was recovered on the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2001, buried 25 feet deep at the impact site.

Its full contents have never been made public, but press reports of the tape indicate that a charge of the cockpit by the passengers and crew did take place. A woman can be heard pleading for her life at the start of the tape. This is thought to have been a flight attendant.

Government prosecutors in the case asked Judge Brinkema to order the tape sealed and to keep the transcript from the general public after it is played in open court, but she made no immediate ruling on that motion.

She said the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ordered that trial evidence be made public and that relatives of Flight 93 victims would have until Tuesday to file any objections they had to the tape being played.

If the court receives no objections, she said, she will release the material to the general public the day after it is submitted into evidence. No date was set.

Moussaoui, 37, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is in the second phase of his trial to determine whether he should receive a lethal injection. The jury already has determined that he is eligible for the death penalty but now must decide whether he deserves to die based on the aggravating and mitigating evidence.

If the jury finds he does not warrant the death penalty, he will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Judge Brinkema noted in her ruling that the government requested the court seal transcripts of the tape after their admission into evidence and prohibit any public dissemination of the materials.

But, she said, the government admitted during oral arguments that the policy reasons for sealing the materials was “to protect the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) against premature public speculation regarding the cause of any airline crash so it may conduct a full and fair investigation.”

She said those concerns were “not implicated in this sentencing proceeding.”

Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April to a six-count indictment to conspiring with the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who crashed four hijacked jetliners on September 11, killing nearly 3,000 people.

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