Appeals court upholds Moussaoui's conviction, life prison term

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; 2:23 PM

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction and life prison term of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U.S. court in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected an effort by Moussaoui's lawyers to send the case back to federal court in Alexandria, where he pleaded guilty in 2005 to an al-Qaeda conspiracy to crash planes into U.S. buildings that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. After a two-month sentencing trial in Alexandria, Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison.

Attorneys for Moussaoui had told the Richmond-based court that he should be retried or resentenced because he was deprived of his constitutional rights. The Justice Department argued that the proceedings were fair.

The 4th Circuit decision, by a three-judge panel, comes amid growing concern about terrorism after the unsuccessful effort to blow up an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day. It also comes as the Obama administration has begun a renewed effort to use the U.S. court system that handled Moussaoui's case to try other accused terrorists. The administration recently announced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of Sept. 11, and four other accused Sept. 11 plotters would be tried in federal court in Manhattan.

After Sept. 11, Moussaoui's case was at the heart of a fierce debate over whether terrorism suspects should be tried by civilian courts or before military commissions.

Lawyers for Moussaoui and Justice Department officials could not be immediately reached Monday afternoon.

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