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Moussaoui team to grill potential jurors

Defense offers more detailed questionnaire for sentencing phase

From Phil Hirschkorn

Zacarias Moussaoui has denied direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks.


September 11 attacks
Zacarias Moussaoui

(CNN) -- Attorneys representing admitted al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui want potential jurors to answer more than 300 questions when they are screened to sit on the panel that decides whether Moussaoui should be sentenced to death.

Moussaoui is the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The proposed defense questionnaire submitted Wednesday to the trial judge in Alexandria, Virginia, contains triple the number of questions prosecutors submitted Monday and probes deeper into personal subject areas.

Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty to all terrorism charges against him in April but vowed to fight the death penalty. He is scheduled to have a March trial to determine his sentence.

The jury will have only two choices -- life in prison without the possibility of parole or execution by lethal injection, the only form of capital punishment in the federal system.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has called for 500 prospective jurors to gather at the federal courthouse in Alexandria on February 6 to fill out questionnaires.

Like the prosecutors, defense attorneys want to probe the jury pool's views of capital punishment, whether they have any ties to the 9/11 attacks, and what they know about the 19 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Both proposed forms ask prospective jurors where they get their news; if they have ever been a firefighter, pilot or airport worker; and what organizations they belong to -- such as the Rotary Club, American Civil Liberties Union or National Rifle Association.

But defense attorneys want to dig much deeper into each prospective juror's psyche.

They would ask not only whether jurors knew anyone killed on September 11 but also their beliefs about why the United States was attacked, how the event affected them and their community -- as well as whether they visited the attack sites, gave money to relief efforts or displayed a flag in their home as a result.

Defense attorneys also would ask prospective jurors which 9/11 documentaries they have watched; if they followed the workings of the 9/11 commission or previous terror attacks on Americans such as in Lebanon or East Africa; and whether they fear new attacks like London transport bombings.

Further, defense attorneys would ask whether jurors own a gun, the last three books they've read and their opinion of the FBI's actions in other controversial cases at Waco and Ruby Ridge or involving Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee.

Other defense questions would probe knowledge of post-9/11 terror defendants, including convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who wrote to Moussaoui from prison.

Beyond whether they have been a witness or victim of a crime, the defense also would ask, "In your opinion, what are the major causes of crime?" and "Is it better to let 10 guilty defendants go free than to risk convicting an innocent person?"

With Moussaoui's reluctance to see doctors and his mental competence an issue throughout his case, the defense would ask jurors if they know anyone with an addiction or psychiatric condition "who refuses treatment for their condition?"

Defense attorneys wouldn't stop at finding out whether jurors are acquainted with any Muslims, asking also if they believe Muslims are more violent than other people, whether Islam is a "peaceful and nonviolent" religion or whether it "seeks to rid the world of other religions."

Defense attorneys want to find out if jurors know anyone who is from the Middle East or North Africa.

"Is there any racial or ethnic group that you do not feel comfortable around?" the proposed form would ask. Moussaoui is a French national of Moroccan descent. (Profile)

Defense attorneys want to know prospective juror's current occupation and previous jobs going back 15 years, and whether they have worked for the government or a government contractor.

A sixth of the questions deal with attitudes toward the death penalty.

Ten days after the jury pool is called, the court plans oral interviews with prospective jurors who make the first cut. The jurors' identities will be shielded from the judge, attorneys and the media -- a common practice in terrorism cases.

Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI in August 2001 in Minnesota after raising suspicions at a flight school when he showed up paying close to $7,000 cash for Boeing 747 simulator training.

Moussaoui has admitted joining al Qaeda and pledging loyalty to Osama bin Laden, attending training camps in Afghanistan and coming to the United States hoping to fly a plane into the White House.

Prosecutors have not proved Moussaoui had any direct role in the 9/11 attacks, which he has denied. But the government contends his lies to FBI agents after his arrest covered up the conspiracy and contributed to the mass casualties.

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