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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

 

AP: Prosecutor misconduct stalls terrorist case - March 14

By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer Tue Mar 14, 3:28 AM ET

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Prosecutors are struggling to save their bid to execute al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui after the judge said a government lawyer's misconduct makes it very difficult for the case to go forward.

Eddie Bracken, whose sister was a victim of the 9/11 attacks in New York, speaks after the fifth day of Zacarius Moussaoui's sentencing trial at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. during Monday, March 9, 2006. An angry federal judge unexpectedly recessed the death penalty trial of confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to consider whether government violations of her rules against coaching witnesses should remove the death penalty as an option. The stunning development came at the opening of the fifth day of the trial as the government had informed the judge and the defense over the weekend that a lawyer for the Federal Aviation Administration had coached four government FAA witnesses in violation of the rule set by U.S. District Judge Brinkema. The rule was that no witness should hear trial testimony in advance. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)Eddie Bracken, right, whose sister was a victim of the 9/11 attacks in New York, speaks after the fifth day of Zacarius Moussaoui's sentencing trial at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Visibly angry, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema summoned the offending lawyer, Carla J. Martin of the Transportation Security Administration, to a hearing Tuesday to assess what damage she may have done by coaching seven witnesses.

The seven present or former federal aviation officials -- three prosecution and four defense witnesses -- also were to be questioned. Brinkema said she wanted to "find out if I can satisfy myself that their testimony is not going to be slanted or otherwise inaccurate" as a result of Martin's coaching.

Meanwhile, Brinkema suspended the sentencing trial on Monday and sent the jury home while she decides on a remedy for the government misconduct.

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon has moved to bar the government from pursuing the death penalty. If Brinkema does that, the trial would end. Moussaoui would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of release. And the government would likely appeal.

The trial's second week began Monday with a bombshell: "In all the years I have been on the bench, I have never seen such an egregious violation of a court's rule on witnesses," Brinkema told the court before the jury was brought in.

Brinkema had ordered that trial witnesses were not to see trial transcripts or to follow the case, to guard against their being coached or altering their testimony to conform with what others said.

Prosecutor David Novak, who had disclosed Martin's actions over the weekend, agreed they were "horrendously wrong."

In moving to exclude the death penalty, MacMahon said, "This is not going to be a fair trial."

At the very least, he said, the government's witnesses from the Federal Aviation Administration should be excluded. But Novak protested they represented "half the government's case." He offered to reduce the number of government FAA witnesses and allow some defense FAA testimony without cross-examination.

In a court filing, prosecutors said there is no need to exclude the FAA witnesses from testifying, saying the violation of the court's order, "while egregious," can be remedied when the witnesses are questioned in front of the jury.

The defense said in court papers, "There is no way to un-ring the bell. The FAA witnesses have been tainted."

Martin e-mailed the upcoming witnesses a transcript of the trial's first day and her analysis of the government's opening statement and of vulnerabilities exposed in the government's case by questioning of the first witness. Until recently, Martin had been the government lawyer representing the FAA witnesses.

Full AP-Yahoo News story.  D.H.: The "war on terra" cannot even fish out of a bucket.

Dave Haigler, Abilene, Texas
lawfirm webpage: www.haigler.info
political blog: http://demlog.blogspot.com

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