ALEXANDRIA, Va., AP -After an extraordinary week in which confessed al-Qaida terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui’s death-penalty trial was sidetracked to plumb the depths of a government lawyer’s misdeeds, the jury is returning to hear evidence by the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The prosecutors’ case against Moussaoui had verged on collapse but received a reprieve from the same judge who put the government’s case in jeopardy just days earlier.
FBI agent Harry Samit has testified that Moussaoui’s lies after his August 2001 arrest prevented him from persuading the bureau to launch the kind of investigative blitz that might have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Defense lawyers were set to begin their cross-examination of Samit on Monday.
Resumption of testimony follows a one-week delay ordered by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema after she learned that a lawyer with the Transportation Security Administration, Carla Martin, had improperly coached witnesses on their testimony by urging them to read trial transcripts. That violated a court order sequestering witnesses from exposure to trial proceedings.
Brinkema scheduled a hearing to look into the matter and uncovered even more misconduct. Martin falsely told defense attorneys that two TSA employees sought by the defense as potential witnesses were unwilling to meet with the defense, witnesses testified.
Brinkema considered tossing out the government’s death-penalty case entirely, but instead ruled that the government could not present any testimony about aviation security in their case to the jury.
Prosecutors responded that Brinkema’s order amounted to pulling the plug on the entire case and asked her to reconsider. They said the excluded testimony was crucial because they needed to show the jury what security measures could have been implemented at the nation’s airports if aviation officials had known of the threat posed by Moussaoui and his al-Qaida co-conspirators.
Brinkema relented on Friday and revised her ruling, allowing prosecutors to present testimony from aviation witnesses who were unexposed to Martin’s taint.
Defense attorneys asked Brinkema late Friday to question Martin about her actions before allowing any aviation testimony, but they got no immediate ruling.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country with the 9/11 attacks. He pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al-Qaida to hijack aircraft and commit other crimes. The sentencing trial now under way will determine his punishment: death or life in prison.
To obtain the death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Moussaoui caused at least one death on Sept. 11. They argue he did just that by lying to agents after his August 2001 arrest and refusing to reveal his al-Qaida membership and his terrorist ties.
Moussaoui denies he had anything to do with 9/11 and says he was training for a future attack.