Moussaoui trial moved to January to give defense more time to prepare

Friday, August 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Turning aside government objections, a federal judge Friday postponed the trial of accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui until Jan. 6 after concluding the defense couldn't be ready this fall.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the evidence was voluminous and complex, and she granted Moussaoui's motion to postpone ``the Leonie Brinkema Travesty of Justice Trial.''

The French citizen, 34, is representing himself against charges that he conspired with the 19 suicide hijackers to commit terrorism. A team of court-appointed defense lawyers supported Moussaoui's postponement request.

Under the revised schedule:

_Questionnaires will be distributed to a pool of potential jurors Nov. 18.

_The pool will be narrowed by Dec. 6.

_Questioning of jurors in court will begin Dec. 9 and continue until a final pool of 90 is selected. From that group, there will be 12 jurors and 6 alternates selected on Jan 6, followed by opening statements.

``Although the public's right to a speedy trial is a legitimate concern, this court's paramount concern is ensuring that the defendant receive a fair trial,'' Brinkema said in a three-page order.

``The volume and complexity of the evidence in this prosecution fully support the defense request,'' she said.

Brinkema also said each side would be permitted to dismiss 25 individuals from the jury pool.

Prosecutors said in a motion this week they wanted the trial to begin as scheduled, with the start of jury selection on Sept. 30 and testimony by mid-October.

A government motion contended the public, victims who survived the Sept. 11 attacks and families of those injured and killed deserved a speedy trial as required by federal law.

The prosecutors said the Sept. 11 attacks were ``volleys in a declared war against the United States ... intended to terrorize the entire nation. Thus, the victims and the nation's interest in a fair and speedy trial is beyond dispute.''

Moussaoui said in his motion that the strict conditions of his confinement made it impossible to prepare a defense under the original schedule.

``How can I go to trial when I am completely seal off from the outside world,'' Moussaoui said in a handwritten motion. ``No radio, no TV, no phone call, no letter, no visit, no Freeman.'' Charles Freeman is a Texas lawyer who declined to formally enter the case and has been unable, for that reason, to consult with Moussaoui as the defendant has requested.

The court-appointed lawyers, who were asked by Brinkema to remain as ``standby'' attorneys, had argued: ``It is the government which has so swamped Mr. Moussaoui's boat with discovery (documents) that he cannot bail it out in time to be prepared for trial'' on Sept. 30.