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Moussaoui's Ejection Highlights Judges' Authority
Sometimes the threat of extreme measures is enough. During the 2003 federal trial of Murder Inc. gang members in the District, Judge Royce C. Lamberth spotted one defendant mouthing words to an ex-girlfriend as she testified reluctantly. "You sit down and shut up," the judge growled after excusing the jury. "If you want to be bound and gagged for the rest of this trial, you just keep it up."
Judges don't hesitate to follow through when their patience is tested. In Florida, Judge S. James Foxman had convicted killer Richard England's mouth shut briefly with duct tape after a series of outbursts during his sentencing hearing in 2004.
"It was definitely unusual,'' recalled the prosecutor, Ed Davis. "Obviously, the judge has to control the courtroom.''
In South Carolina, defendant Branden Basham, a Kentucky native, implored U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson to let him take a dip of smokeless tobacco in a holding cell just off the courtroom during his 2004 kidnapping and carjacking trial. Anderson offered nicotine gum instead.
Since his indictment in December 2001, Moussaoui has erupted repeatedly in court, interrupting hearings to try to fire his attorneys (he succeeded, but the judge later brought them back) and to plead guilty. He withdrew the plea, in early 2002, a week later.
The court docket is filled with motions Moussaoui scrawled from jail in which he taunted prosecutors and the judge, hailed himself as a "slave of Allah" and derided his attorneys as the "bloodsucker death team.''
Brinkema has shown patience with Moussaoui in the past, indulging his often rambling courtroom monologues and allowing him to enter his plea last year despite questions about his mental competence.
But the judge has also cracked the whip. She has allowed federal marshals to fit Moussaoui with a stun device during court appearances, sources familiar with the case said. Lawyers who have seen one said the gadget is attached to the defendant's body, under the clothing.
A deputy equipped with a small remote control stands at the ready to administer jolts of electricity if violence is threatened. "It's enough to give you convulsions on the floor,'' said Shapiro, whose client Christopher Andaryl Wills, a kidnapping defendant, wore one during his 2001 trial at the federal courthouse where Moussaoui is on trial for his life.
John Hackman, chief deputy U.S. marshal in Alexandria, declined to comment on the stun device but said the marshals are "taking every precaution to ensure the safety of not only the defendant but also the people watching the trial, the judge, the defense lawyers and the prosecutors."
No zapping was required Monday; Moussaoui wasn't in court long enough. Brinkema threw him out after outbursts at the start of four sessions with prospective jurors. Among other things, Moussaoui declared his allegiance to al Qaeda, called his attorneys "my enemies" and announced his intention to testify at the trial.
As he left the first time, Moussaoui noted that he didn't "want to give you any excuse to pretend that I make any aggressive move." His remark might be interpreted, court observers said, as: Please, don't zap me.
In the South Carolina case, when his request for tobacco was refused, Basham yelled at the judge and stood up. The marshals pounced. "It was not a pretty scene,'' said Basham's attorney, Gregory P. Harris.
The incident took on legal significance as well. Prosecutors played for the jury, which had been out of the courtroom, a video of Basham fighting with deputies on the floor. Jurors sentenced him to death.
"If Moussaoui acts out in front of the jury, that's to his own detriment," Harris said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.