Moussaoui tests judicial system, trial judge

Sunday, May 5, 2002

WASHINGTON -- A week after Zacarias Moussaoui accused her of plotting his execution, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema denied bias against the only man indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks. Her four-page order rejected his demand, in a jailhouse motion, that she step down.

Longtime federal judges predict Moussaoui is only beginning his severe test for the judicial system in general and Brinkema in particular.

They praised her conduct so far, but warned her not to be goaded into an overreaction.

"I'd pray to God for patience," said former U.S. District Judge Robert Merhige Jr. of Richmond, Va., who recalled precisely his petition to the almighty during difficult cases: "Please God, I want patience and I want it now."

The Bush administration could have tried Moussaoui, a French citizen, by military tribunal. Instead, he was indicted by a federal grand jury and now has begun using Brinkema's courtroom in Alexandria, Va., as a political stage in a case that could end in his death.

Jury selection is set for late September.

In a 50-minute speech on April 22, he told the judge to her face that she was conspiring with prosecutors and court-appointed defense lawyers to plan his execution. He read from the Quran. He said he prayed for the destruction of Israel and the United States. He asked her to dismiss his court appointed attorneys, a request Brinkema may grant after a mental exam.

Back in jail three days later, Moussaoui filed motions in his own hand that attacked the integrity of Brinkema.

He objected to her calling his courtroom conduct unorthodox and unpredictable. He complained about her desire for a trial schedule without delays. He accused her of failing to have government documents turned over to him.

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