December 28, 2001

Judge Sets Dates in Moussaoui Sept. 11 Trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. government has until March 29 to say whether it plans to seek the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, the first person indicted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued an order, released by the Justice Department on Friday, setting out a timeline for various aspects of the Moussaoui trial, which will be held in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia.

Brinkema said Moussaoui's lawyers had until March 1 to present any written briefs regarding the applicability of the death penalty. Oral arguments will be made no later than March 15.

If the government wants to seek the death penalty, it must do so by March 29, with oral arguments set for April 4.

Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent who was detained a few weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, has been indicted on six counts of conspiracy in the hijacked airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,300 people.

Four of the counts carry a maximum punishment of the death penalty while the other two carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

U.S. officials have said Moussaoui may have been preparing to be a member of the four hijacking teams behind the attacks. He was initially arrested on immigration violations after he aroused suspicion by trying to buy time on a jumbo jet flight simulator at a flight school.


Brinkema also agreed to a request by the defense and prosecutors to waive the 70-day time limit between the arraignment and the beginning of trial.

``This case is both unusual and highly complex due to the international scope of the evidence, the potential for the death penalty and the probability that information subject to the Classified Information Procedures Act is involved,'' the judge said.

As a result, she said the 70-day limit would not give either the government or the defense sufficient time to prepare for pretrial motions or for the trial.

Brinkema said all parties must be prepared to discuss proposed dates for pretrial hearings and the trial at Moussaoui's Jan. 2 arraignment.

At the arraignment next Wednesday, Moussaoui is expected to enter a formal plea to the charges.

Moussaoui's mother, Aicha el-Wafi, arrived in Virginia on Thursday. She told reporters her son was innocent and appealed for him not to be made into a scapegoat.

She spent part of Friday at the Alexandria courthouse where the trial will be held, meeting with the court-appointed team of lawyers who will be defending her son.

Copyright 2001. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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