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Government against in-depth Moussaoui mental exam

Zacarias Moussaoui  

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors Thursday challenged a move by defense attorneys for terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui to have a comprehensive mental health evaluation.

Prosecutors say the standard used to determine whether Moussaoui, 33, can defend himself without the benefit of legal counsel should be no different from that used to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.

But his attorneys, in a petition filed with U.S. District Court on Wednesday, asked for a much more exhaustive exam, raising the question of whether their client is paranoid.

Moussaoui -- the only person charged in connection with the September 11 attacks -- told a federal judge Monday that he wanted to fire his team of four attorneys because he didn't trust them, asserting they were "experienced in deception."

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The defendant, who has been indicted on six conspiracy counts, four of which carry the death penalty, said he wanted to waive his right to a trial by jury. He said he wanted U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema to decide his case, instead of a jury, though he expressed reservations about her fairness.

As for his attorneys, Moussaoui said they were motivated by "greed, fame and vanity" and he wanted to hire a Muslim lawyer of his own choosing. Failing that, Moussaoui said he wanted to represent himself.

Brinkema deferred ruling on Moussaoui's requests, saying he must first undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Moussaoui's lawyers said prosecutors were interested only in a perfunctory psychiatric exam and that would not be sufficient to determine their client's mental state.

"No psychiatrist or clinical psychologist could possibly answer this question in one short session with Mr. Moussaoui and nothing more," they wrote.

But federal prosecutors responded with their own motion Thursday.

According to the government's motion, the court should authorize only a limited test of competency, and the judge herself can rule on whether Moussaoui "knowingly and voluntarily waives a constitutional right without a psychiatric examination."

It added, "Indeed, courts routinely make such findings in, for example, guilty pleas."

The government added that any Moussaoui review should examine only whether he currently suffers from mental disease or defect, and not consider past conduct and statements, as the defense has requested.

Prosecutors said Brinkema must separately decide whether Moussaoui's waiving of counsel is knowing and voluntary.

Moussaoui attempts to contact prosecutors

In another matter, the government revealed that Moussaoui had attempted to contact prosecutors.

In their filing, prosecutors said representatives received a message Tuesday from a captain at the Alexandria Detention Center, where Moussaoui is housed, saying the prisoner "wanted to talk with prosecutors about the death penalty and classified information."

"Government counsel immediately contacted defense counsel and informed them of this message," said their filing.

Prosecutors said the captain was told "as far as we are concerned, Moussaoui was still represented and that we could not talk to him without counsel present. We then told defense counsel that, although we believed that it would be legally permissible for us to speak with the defendant, we would not have contact with the defendant without defense counsel present or without permission from the court."




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