By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006
The government lawyer blamed for single-handedly imperiling the death penalty hearing of Zacarias Moussaoui has been "viciously vilified" and was devoted to ensuring a fair trial for the Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator, her attorney said yesterday in his first public comments.
Carla J. Martin, who brought the sentencing hearing to a halt after she discussed testimony with upcoming witnesses, has been attacked in an "unprofessional, unpersuasive manner" by federal prosecutors who called her a "lone miscreant," said her attorney, Roscoe C. Howard Jr.
"They have tried her, they have convicted her and they are talking about punishment of her without her being there," said Howard, a former U.S. attorney in the District. "It's such an anathema to what I understand is justice, and it's shocking coming from the Department of Justice."
Howard's defense came as Martin, 51, was placed on paid administrative leave from her job at the Transportation Security Administration while the agency investigates her conduct, a spokesman said yesterday. The salary for her job title, attorney adviser, is up to $120,000.
Martin's actions in violation of a court order led a federal judge on Tuesday to bar key government witnesses and all aviation security evidence from the sentencing trial of Moussaoui. The ruling devastated the case that prosecutors had been building for the execution of the only person convicted in the United States on charges stemming from the terrorist attacks.
Moussaoui's attorneys yesterday urged U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to reaffirm her ruling and reject a motion filed by prosecutors Wednesday imploring her to reconsider. They said Martin's conduct violated Moussaoui's basic constitutional rights, and they criticized the Justice Department for saying her role in the case had been peripheral at best.
"The government attempts to minimize Ms. Martin's involvement in this case, reducing her to virtually the status of a messenger," the defense response said. "It is worth noting that Ms. Martin, at least, has worked with the prosecutorial team itself. ... [T]hat is more evidence of direct involvement with the misconduct at issue here than the government will adduce about Mr. Moussaoui's involvement with the [Sept. 11] hijackers, yet it considers that connection sufficient to actually execute him."
Brinkema has yet to rule on the government's motion to reconsider her order, and it remained unclear if the sentencing hearing will resume Monday as scheduled in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. If Brinkema reaffirms her ruling, the government could appeal it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, though legal experts have said an appeal would be difficult to win.
Prosecutors last night issued a statement in response to Howard's comments, which appeared to signal an emerging defense of blaming them for what Brinkema has said were Martin's actions. "We stand by our motion to reconsider and our characterization of the seriousness of Ms. Martin's conduct based upon the court's findings," said Kenneth E. Melson, first assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria.
Earlier in the day, Howard had said that Martin was "stunned" when prosecutors, at a hearing Tuesday on the matter, asked Brinkema to read her a version of the Miranda rights read to criminal suspects.
"Ms. Martin has now been viciously vilified by assertions from the prosecution and assorted media pundits," Howard said in a statement. "Only her accusers' stories have been told; and those stories have been accepted as the whole truth. When her opportunity comes, her response will show a very different, full picture of her intentions, her conduct and her tireless dedication to a fair trial."
It was unclear when Martin intended to present her side of the story.
Prosecutors called Martin a "lone miscreant" in a court filing Wednesday and said her role in the Moussaoui case was nothing more than that of a conduit between various government agencies as she coordinated the testimony of aviation witnesses.
Brinkema has said the prosecution team deserves "great credit" for bringing what she called Martin's "egregious errors" to her attention.
Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al-Qaeda in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Prosecutors are seeking his execution in a sentencing trial that began last week but halted Monday when they told Brinkema that Martin had e-mailed trial transcripts to seven aviation witnesses and coached them on their testimony. Brinkema had ruled earlier that most witnesses could not attend or follow the trial and could not read transcripts.
Martin's e-mails sharply criticized the government's case, saying the prosecution's opening statement "has created a credibility gap that the defense can drive a truck through."
After an extraordinary hearing Tuesday, Brinkema struck the testimony of all seven witnesses and the aviation-related evidence. That gutted much of the government's argument: That if Moussaoui had not lied to the FBI when he was arrested in August 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks could have been prevented.
Prosecutors were planning to show that had Moussaoui confessed his knowledge of the plot, the FBI would have scrambled to stop the hijackings and the Federal Aviation Administration would have increased security at the nation's airports. The entire aviation portion is now lost unless Brinkema reconsiders.
In their motion for reconsideration, prosecutors called the ruling unprecedented and "grossly punitive." At a minimum, they said, the judge should let them present a portion of the disputed evidence through a new witness who had no contact with Martin.
But Moussaoui's attorneys wrote yesterday that Brinkema's order was, "without question, necessary to protect Mr. Moussaoui's right to a fair trial and to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system."
Staff writer Carol Morello contributed to this report.