Moussaoui jurors seek legal guidance

March 31, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Jurors in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial went home yesterday without reaching a verdict, after asking for legal guidance on one of the capital murder charges against him, which says he conspired to use "weapons of mass destruction."

The jurors asked U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema for a legal definition of that phrase, and she told them that in this case it meant turning airplanes into "missiles, bombs or similar devices."

The charge is a component of one of the key allegations against the 37-year-old Moussaoui, who was arrested three weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He testified Monday that his role in the conspiracy was to have been flying a jumbo jet into the White House the morning of the attacks.

Moussaoui has pleaded guilty. The jury's task is to decide whether he is eligible for the death penalty because he lied to FBI agents after his arrest. Prosecutors say that if he had cooperated with authorities about the Sept. 11 plot, the government could have extracted enough information from him to stop the 19 hijackers.

The defense is arguing that the federal law enforcement apparatus at that time was so disjointed that officials never would have unraveled the plot even with Moussaoui's help.

Yesterday was the first full day of deliberations. Jurors are to resume work today.

In another development, the court unsealed transcripts of closed hearings between prosecutors and defense lawyers on March 21, during which it was disclosed that the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia is investigating the conduct of Carla J. Martin.

Martin, a senior attorney with the Transportation Security Administration, is accused of improperly tampering with aviation witnesses whom prosecutors and defense lawyers had planned to call to the stand during the trial.

According to evidence and testimony against her, Martin sent the witnesses copies of court transcripts and coached them about their planned testimony, in violation of a February order by Brinkema against witness-tampering.

The judge was incensed, and severely restricted the amount of aviation testimony in the trial. As it turned out, prosecutors called one federal aviation official.

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