Attorneys seek to bar death penalty for Sept. 11 conspiracy defendant

Saturday, April 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Lawyers for Zacarias Moussaoui say the government wants to execute the man indicted as a Sept. 11 conspirator because he's the only one available to get the ultimate penalty for the attacks.

The court-appointed lawyers, whom Moussaoui wants to dismiss, contended in a legal brief Friday that prosecutors ignored the federal death penalty law when they decided to declare the French citizen eligible for execution.

Four counts of the conspiracy indictment carry the death penalty. The government accuses Moussaoui of conspiring to commit terrorism, hijack airliners, destroy aircraft and use weapons of mass destruction.

The defense lawyers contended prosecutors want to execute Moussaoui ``to pander to a public or a jury, which it would like to overheat by waving the flag.''

``When all is said and done, the government wants to execute someone so badly for the events of Sept. 11 that, because no one else is available, it is willing to ignore the plain requirements of the law to make Moussaoui death-eligible _ not based on anything he actually did, but on what it insists he wanted to do,'' the defense motion said.

Filed as a response to the government's death penalty designation, the motion asked U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema to bar the government from seeking Moussaoui's execution.

The brief argued that the government is relying on provisions of the federal death penalty law that allow capital punishment even if a defendant did not directly kill or inflict serious bodily injury that resulted in death.

But the defense lawyers said the government is misreading the statute, and that in order to apply the death penalty to their client, federal prosecutors would have to prove that he actually participated in the murderous act.

Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota on Aug. 16 after authorities became suspicious of his conduct, and was in custody on Sept. 11, when two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center and another crashed into the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania.

``In short, to establish death eligibility, the government must prove both a specific act and death as a result of that act. That the government cannot do,'' the defense motion contended.

It said the 19 hijackers carried out their attacks without any assistance from Moussaoui and there is no allegation in the indictment that he ever had any direct or indirect contact with any of them.

The indictment against Moussaoui said his conduct mirrored the activities of the hijackers, including training at an al-Qaida camp, taking flight lessons, making inquiries about starting a crop-dusting company, purchasing flight deck videos and receiving money from a terrorist financier abroad.

On Monday, Moussaoui asked the judge to allow him to be his own lawyer and said he prayed for the destruction of the United States and Israel. Brinkema said she would not rule on his request until Moussaoui received a mental examination to determine whether he made the request knowingly and voluntarily.