Moussaoui behaves in court during jury selection
Thursday, February 16, 2006
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Unexpectedly allowed back in court, confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui kept quiet Wednesday as two Muslims from South Asia and a Marine Corps lawyer whose boss' Pentagon office blew up on Sept. 11 cleared preliminary hurdles to sit on his sentencing jury.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema had barred Moussaoui from jury selection Tuesday because he wouldn't promise to stop giving insult-laden speeches.
Brinkema did not explain her change of mind in court, but she had said the day before that she might reconsider if Moussaoui decided to alter his behavior. Even Moussaoui's court-appointed defense attorneys did not know why she changed her mind.
Fifteen of the 24 prospective jurors interviewed Wednesday were qualified for service -- three over defense objections and one over government protest. Identified only by number, they were ordered to return March 6 when lawyers will exercise peremptory -- or unexplained -- strikes to whittle the pool to 12 jurors and six alternates.
The jury will decide whether the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, who pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings, is executed or imprisoned for life.
The 15 included three who expressed deep concerns about imposing a death penalty and two who expressed support for the principle of "an eye for an eye." All said they could follow the law despite these views.
Nine potential jurors were dismissed. Most were sent home either because they could not impose a death sentence under any circumstance or because a trial that might last until the end of May would pose financial hardship. One man, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam war, was dismissed because he knew someone who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
Clad in a white knit cap and green prison jump suit with "prisoner" in white block letters on the back, Moussaoui arrived through a side door without warning moments after the proceeding came to order. He craned his neck to scan the prospective jurors' faces and intently watched them answer individual questions.
Moussaoui kept silent except when Brinkema asked him if he would delay his midday prayer from 12:30 p.m. until the 1 p.m. lunch break.
"No, I'm going to pray," Moussaoui replied. But the morning session concluded before his appointed prayer time anyway.
His only other remarks were barely audible to a few spectators sitting near the side door. "God curse America," he muttered twice as he left court for breaks.
Brinkema qualified a Muslim woman, originally from Pakistan, and a Muslim man, born in Kabul, Afghanistan, after each said their origin and religion would have no bearing on their deliberations. She also qualified a woman who had worked as a secretary for the CIA in the 1960s and for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Afghanistan in the 1970s.
The three potential jurors who survived defense objections included a female lawyer in the Marine Corps general counsel's office who said her boss' office blew up in al-Qaida's attack on the Pentagon though he was not injured. She told Brinkema she wasn't worried about how her boss and co-workers would react if she did not impose a death penalty.
Defense attorney Gerald Zerkin argued: "That's a pretty close tie to events in the case. ... I don't see how someone like that can be fair no matter what they say." Noting that the woman had worked both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney in her career, Brinkema responded: "The fact that her boss' office was blown up is not a sufficient connection to this case."
A white-haired man with 30 years of active and reserve duty for the Navy, including time at the Pentagon, also survived defense objections. He said he knew a contractor working in the building near the crash site on Sept. 11.
"I remember him telling me it was very loud and surprising, and he ran faster than he ever had in his life," the juror said.
Zerkin objected because "he knows someone who was at the crime scene."
But Brinkema said that she would not disqualify potential jurors "just because they knew people who worked at the Pentagon," absent something special about their relationship or experience.
Over defense objections, Brinkema also qualified a young female teacher who endorsed the "eye for an eye" principle.
Over objections by prosecutor David Novak, Brinkema qualified a man who thought the FBI had missed a lot of clues before 9/11 and expressed concern the war on terror was eroding civil liberties. Brinkema accepted his assertion he could set these views aside to weigh evidence fairly.
Moussaoui says he had no role in the Sept. 11 plot and instead was training to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House as part of a later plot.
Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.
On the Net:
U.S. District Court: http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov/notablecases/moussaoui/index.html