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Moussaoui wants new judge

Zacarias Moussaoui  

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks, wants a new trial judge. But the judge won't recuse herself from the case.

Moussaoui, who could face the death penalty for allegedly participating in the conspiracy behind the attacks, filed a handwritten motion for the recusal of U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, stating that she "has demonstrated a lack of impartiality" in handling his case.

Brinkema denied the motion as "meritless," saying:"The defendant has not alleged any facts that would support such a finding in this case."


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Moussaoui had previously called Brinkema "a field general, entrusted with the mission to get this matter over quickly" and suggested she was in cahoots with President Bush. "The U.S. commander-in-chief wants me to be over quickly," he said.

In her order, issued Tuesday, Brinkema responded: "A judge's efforts to manage a trial expeditiously is not evidence of a lack of impartiality. Indeed, the prompt resolution of criminal matters is a legitimate goal of the American criminal justice system."

Moussaoui took issue with the judge's description of him as "unorthodox and unpredictable" in her February opinion denying cameras in the courtroom. However, Brinkema wrote, "these adjectives are accurate descriptions of the defendant's conduct," referring, for example, to Moussaoui's refusal to enter a plea at his January 2 arraignment. The court entered a plea of "not guilty" on his behalf that day.

Moussaoui also alleged Brinkema may be biased because one of his attorneys, Frank Dunham, a federal public defender in Virginia, once supervised Brinkema when they worked in the same law firm. She wrote that the 22-year-old connection is "not evidence of any professional or personal bias against the defendant" and noted that she played no role in Dunham's appointment. There are three other attorneys working on Moussaoui's behalf.

In two other handwritten motions filed with the court, Moussaoui formally requested that his court-appointed attorneys be dismissed and that the court-ordered mental competency examination -- ordered as a result of his desire to represent himself -- not occur.

Moussaoui's motion to fire his attorneys repeats statements he made in open court on April 22. Again, Brinkema deferred judgment on that motion until the exam is completed. The court has appointed Washington, D.C., psychiatrist Raymond Patterson to do the exam and given him until May 26 to deliver his report.

"The defendant has offered no rational reason to oppose the evaluation," Brinkema wrote, in denying Moussaoui's request. "In fact, opposing the evaluation is inconsistent with the defendant's desire to represent himself, because the court will not be able to resolve the voluntariness of that decision without the evaluation."

Moussaoui's trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection on September 30. However, the uncertainty surrounding his defense team is bound to delay that plan. Brinkema has already indefinitely postponed the next scheduled court hearing -- the May 15 oral arguments on the government's intent to seek the death penalty. In the meantime, she has allowed Moussaoui himself to file up to 10 pages in his own hand responding to the motion.

Moussaoui is under indictment for six conspiracy charges -- to commit an act of terrorism, to pirate and destroy aircraft, to use weapons of mass destruction, to destroy property and to murder Americans. Although four of the counts are death-eligible, Moussaoui is not accused of killing anyone himself.

Prosecutors allege that Moussaoui underwent flight training in the United States and weapons training in an al Qaeda camp inside Afghanistan, like some of the 19 known hijackers, and received money from the same terrorist financier in Germany that the hijackers did.

Moussaoui's attorneys have said he had no direct connections to the hijackers who commandeered four planes and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people.

"When all is said and done, the government wants to execute someone so badly for the events of September 11 that, because no one else is available, it is willing to ignore the plain requirements of the law to make Moussaoui death-eligible not based on anything he actually did, but on what it insists he wanted to do," the attorneys wrote in a motion submitted last week opposing the pursuit of the death penalty.

Besides wanting to represent himself, Moussaoui has said he would rather have a judge decide his case than a jury -- something the prosecution would have to consent to before the judge could allow it.




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