Federal prosecutors yesterday urged a judge to set the trial of terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui for October, moving quickly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined this week to enter the long-delayed case.
In a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, prosecutors said jury selection should begin Oct. 3, with opening statements scheduled for Oct. 31. Defense attorneys, who are expected to respond, declined to comment yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema has yet to rule on the prosecution request. If she agrees, it would set the stage for the first trial in a U.S. courtroom of a suspect accused in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Moussaoui, a French citizen, was charged in December 2001 with conspiring with al Qaeda in the attacks. He has pleaded not guilty but admitted to being an al Qaeda member.
He was originally scheduled to go on trial in October 2002. But the trial has been delayed three times, and the case has been stalled for the past two years because of a protracted dispute over whether Moussaoui can interview top al Qaeda operatives captured in the war on terrorism.
Moussaoui and his attorneys believe the witnesses have information that is important for his defense. Brinkema agreed and, beginning in January 2003, granted a series of defense motions to depose the witnesses. They have not been publicly identified, but sources say the witnesses include Ramzi Binalshibh, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, and former al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
Prosecutors strongly objected, arguing that depositions would interrupt important interrogations and harm national security. They refused to produce the witnesses. As punishment, Brinkema struck all Sept. 11 evidence from the case and barred the government from seeking to have Moussaoui executed.
Government appeals to the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit produced a series of decisions that overturned Brinkema and restored the death penalty and the Sept. 11 evidence. The court said Moussaoui could not interview the captives.
Moussaoui's attorneys then sought Supreme Court intervention, arguing that his constitutional rights were being violated. But Monday, the court denied Moussaoui's petition and declined to hear the matter before trial, effectively sending the case back to Brinkema.
The 4th Circuit had ordered Brinkema to craft versions of statements the witnesses made to government interrogators, known as substitutions, to present to the jury. That process, which is likely to be complicated, is expected to begin soon.