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Judge considers TV cameras for Moussaoui trial

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Zacarias Moussaoui appeared in a Virginia courtroom Wednesday as his attorneys joined lawyers for a television network to argue in favor of televising the trial of the first man charged in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she would not issue a ruling on the matter before next Tuesday.

"These are significant issues we're dealing with," the judge said.

Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, is accused of conspiring with suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to "murder thousands of people," according to an indictment filed December 11, 2001.

Indictment: U.S. v. Moussaoui  FindLaw document (PDF format)

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Moussaoui, who underwent flight training in the United States and allegedly received money transfers from the hijackers' German cell, is suspected of possibly preparing to be the fifth hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93 -- the only one of the four planes on September 11 with four terrorists aboard. Five hijackers were on each of the other planes.

Flight 93, from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in Pennsylvania, and authorities believe it was headed to Washington before passengers fought for control of the jet

Rule 53 of federal criminal procedure bans the taking of photographs in the courtroom and radio broadcasting during trials. Court TV, which made the motion to allow a camera in the Moussaoui courtroom, maintains that rule is unconstitutional. The network, which cited the First Amendment and the historic magnitude of the case, was supported in court filings by other media organizations, including CNN.

Court TV argued in its motion that the public would be better served by having a camera inside the courtroom rather than resorting to secondhand summaries for news on the case.

"There is no principled constitutional distinction between the right to observe legal proceedings firsthand and the right to record and telecast those proceedings for the benefit of persons who, for any variety of reasons, cannot attend the proceedings at the courthouse," the motion said.

Court TV attorney Lee Levine  

"If a reporter may take notes and a sketch artist may draw a portrait, there simply is no principled basis on which to exclude cameras," Court TV continued.

The defendant supported Court TV's position for televising the trial, his attorneys said.

"Televising the trial," Moussaoui's lawyers said in a memorandum filed with the court, "will add an additional layer of protection to see that these proceedings are fairly conducted."

Moussaoui, who was in the courtroom for the hearing but did not speak to the court, opposed televising pretrial proceedings because that might expose potential jurors to "information that will not be admissible at trial," his memorandum said.

The Justice Department opposed the motion to televise the Moussaoui trial in any way.

"The televising of criminal trials poses significant risks to the administration of justice," prosecutors wrote in their opposition motion.

The government argued that televised proceedings would undermine security, influence jurors, and distract witnesses. The right to observe, U.S. Appeals Attorney Elizabeth Collery said Wednesday, does not require that important trials be "moved to amphitheaters" to allow greater public observation.

But Court TV attorney Lee Levine told the judge that the right to observe a trial should not be limited "to the 60 or 70 people who can crowd into a courtroom."

During the 30-minute hearing, Brinkema raised questions about the possibility that radio broadcast might be an acceptable compromise on the issue and indicated sympathy with the government's position regarding the security of trial participants.

Brinkema also cited support for the rules banning cameras in federal courtrooms by the Federal Judicial Conference, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and by Congress. She indicated that a ruling contrary to those rules would be a major step.

All 50 states permit some type of TV coverage in the courts, and 37 states -- including Virginia -- allow cameras during state criminal proceedings.

Moussaoui's trial is scheduled to begin on October 15. He entered a plea of not guilty at his January 2 arraignment.

Moussaoui faces six conspiracy counts, including conspiracy to commit murder, to commit acts of terrorism, to commit air piracy, to destroy aircraft, to destroy property, and to use weapons of mass destruction.

On four of the counts, conviction could result in a death penalty.

The government has until March 29 to decide whether to pursue capital punishment.

Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota on immigration charges a month before the September 11 attacks.

-- CNN's Susan Candiotti, Terry Frieden and Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.




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