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Judge refuses to accept Moussaoui's guilty plea

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Associated Press Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged as a Sept. 11 conspirator, attempted to plead guilty Thursday to new federal charges that could bring him the death penalty. But the judge -- in a rare bench ruling -- insisted he take a week to think about it.

"I am a member of al-Qaida" pledged to Osama bin Laden, Moussaoui told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who moments earlier had entered an innocent plea on his behalf to a third indictment. Shortly after that, Moussaoui tried to plead guilty.

After an arraignment in which Moussaoui often sparred with the judge, Brinkema insisted that Moussaoui think about his decision for a week. She scheduled a hearing for next Thursday.

"I don't need," Moussaoui said in response. "I've been thinking about it for months."

Moussaoui said, however, he wanted to fight the government's attempt to have him executed. The penalty phase normally would come after a guilty plea or conviction in a trial.

The arraignment had been scheduled after the government on Tuesday obtained a third indictment against Moussaoui following a new Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty. The new indictment added allegations that would enable the government to seek the death penalty.

Moussaoui is the only individual charged in connection with the attacks. The original indictment in December accused him of plotting with the 19 hijackers and mimicking their conduct, including enrollment in flight schools. While government officials believe he was planning to be the 20th hijacker, Moussaoui was in custody on Sept. 11 on immigration violations.

Moussaoui said, however, he wanted to fight the government's attempt to have him executed. The penalty phase normally would come after a guilty plea or conviction in a trial.

The arraignment had been scheduled after the government on Tuesday obtained a third indictment against Moussaoui following a new Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty. The new indictment added allegations that would enable the government to seek the death penalty.

Moussaoui at first tried to enter what he called "a pure plea." He said such a plea would enable him to make specific statements regarding his participation in a known terrorist group since 1995.

When Brinkema said he was confused, Moussaoui responded, "I'm not confused, thank you."

The judge then told him his only choices were: guilty, not guilty, or no contest, and she had ruled out the latter in a previous hearing.

Moussaoui told the judge, "I don't have to take advice from you."

Brinkema then said, "I am therefore entering a not guilty plea on your behalf."

Moussaoui responded that he was pleading guilty and the judge replied that she would give him a week to reconsider.

Moussaoui went back to court Thursday on a second indictment. Charges were initially filed against him in December. In June, prosecutors dropped references to Moussaoui's interest in crop-dusting aircraft.

Moussaoui last December told Brinkema he had no plea and the judge entered a plea of innocent.

After the June revision in the indictment, Moussaoui tried to plead "no contest," but Brinkema again entered an innocent plea after explaining the term was the equivalent of pleading guilty.


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