No new trial for Moussaoui

Judge turns down his request

terrorist says he lied on the stand

May 09, 2006|By RICHARD A. SERRANO | RICHARD A. SERRANO,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Convicted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, declaring his surprise at having received a fair trial, asked a federal judge yesterday to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea so that he could be tried again. This time, he said, he wouldn't lie on the witness stand.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema quickly turned down the request, saying federal law prevents a criminal defendant from withdrawing a guilty plea after sentencing. Moussaoui was given life in prison without parole Thursday.

"His motion is too late and must be denied on this basis alone," she said.

Moussaoui, in a three-page affidavit filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., said he was "extremely surprised" that he had received a fair sentencing trial over the past two months and said he lied when he testified that he had been preparing to fly a fifth hijacked plane into the White House on Sept. 11, 2001.

The French Moroccan said he agreed to plead guilty only because four years in solitary confinement had "made me hostile toward everyone, and I began taking extreme positions to fight the system."

He said he did not know lead hijacker Mohamed Atta or the other 18 hijackers. Several jurors indicated after Moussaoui's trial that they never believed he was a major participant in the Sept. 11 plot. They said that was one reason they sentenced him to life in prison rather than death.

Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers, in a footnote to the legal motion, acknowledged that the law prohibits a sentenced defendant from withdrawing his guilty plea.

"Notwithstanding this prohibition," the defense lawyers said, "counsel is filing this motion given their problematic relationship with Moussaoui, of which the court is well aware." They were referring to Moussaoui's refusal to cooperate with them.

The judge's denial can be appealed, and Carl Tobias, a law school professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said the government might see it as a second chance to gain a death sentence for Moussaoui.

Prosecutors did not respond to Moussaoui's request.

In his affidavit, Moussaoui said that because he was not given a Muslim defense lawyer, he didn't trust the American judicial process.

"I was sure that the justice system was just a charade and I would be given death," he said.

His skepticism, he said, led him to plead guilty in April 2005. During his trial, he claimed he was to have piloted a fifth hijacked plane on Sept. 11.

In his new affidavit, Moussaoui said, "That was a complete fabrication. I have never met Mohamed Atta, and, while I may have seen a few of the other hijackers at the guesthouse [of an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan], I never knew them or anything about their operation."

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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