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Lawyer in Moussaoui case put on leave

Martin's attorney says client 'viciously vilified'

From Jeanne Meserve and Phil Hirschkorn

Government lawyer Carla Martin leaves court Tuesday. She has been placed on paid administrative leave.



Zacarias Moussaoui
September 11 attacks
Capital Punishment

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration lawyer who improperly contacted witnesses in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial has been placed on paid administrative leave, Department of Homeland Security officials said.

Moussaoui's sentencing trial was postponed this week after it was discovered Carla Martin, 51, e-mailed commentary, opening statements and witness testimony to a half-dozen scheduled aviation security witnesses.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema found that Martin violated her court order instructing witnesses to avoid following court proceedings or discussing them with each other until they had testified.

Martin's attorney says she has been "viciously vilified" by the prosecution and media pundits.

"Only her accusers' stories have been told, and those stories have been accepted as the whole truth. They are not," attorney Roscoe Howard said in a written statement.

He said she was preparing a response, which "will show a very different, full picture of her intentions, her conduct and her tireless dedication to a fair trial. Only those who will judge Carla Martin on the basis of one side of the story should believe what has been said about her."

A former U.S. attorney called her actions "unfathomable for a government lawyer."

"It's like Law 101," said Kendall Coffey, also a frequent CNN guest commentator.

"It was one of the most boneheaded blunders ever seen in a high-profile federal case."

Brinkema consequently barred the witnesses and any aviation evidence, gutting roughly half the government's argument for sentencing Moussaoui to death.

Moussaoui is the only person to be charged in the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001, attacks. He pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy last year.

9/11 widow angry

Rosemary Dillard, whose husband, Eddie, was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, is among the 9/11 family members who said she is angry with Martin.

"One woman has made this entire case a laughingstock," Dillard said. "She knows the rules; she didn't play by them."

Dillard was watching a closed-circuit feed when the judge announced she would strike the aviation security portion of the prosecution's case.

"I felt like my heart had been ripped out," she said. "I felt like my husband had been killed again. I felt like the government has let me down one more time."

Martin was placed on paid leave Wednesday as prosecutors regrouped and pleaded with Brinkema to restore the aviation portion of their case and at least allow "untainted" TSA or Federal Aviation Administration witnesses who had no dealings with Martin.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys for Moussaoui filed court papers Thursday supporting the trial judge's removal of aviation security witnesses and evidence from the case.

"The court's ruling imposing sanctions was without question necessary to protect Mr. Moussaoui's right to a fair trial and to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system," the defense said.

The trial is set to resume Monday with cross-examination of a FBI witness.

Judge: Ethical violation

The three prosecutors whose efforts have been jeopardized called Martin's actions "apparently criminal behavior." She could face witness-tampering charges and a contempt-of-court citation.

"She knows what's at stake. Her career could be down the tubes," said Martin's mother, Jean Martin Lay.

"She didn't intentionally do anything wrong," said Lay, 82, who lives in Tennessee, where Martin went to high school and college. "She did not know she was not supposed to do anything with the witnesses."

Besides the witness-coaching allegations, a court hearing Tuesday revealed Martin informed the trial attorneys that TSA witnesses subpoenaed by the defense declined to speak with them.

Two witnesses testified they would have met with Moussaoui's attorneys. The witnesses said Martin had instructed one not to and never told the other about the offer.

Brinkema called Martin's action a "violation of the ethical canons for lawyers."

Prosecutors cite need for aviation security evidence

Former federal prosecutor Andrew McBride said Brinkema could cite Martin for contempt of court and appoint an independent prosecutor to probe witness-tampering charges.

Martin is one of many government attorneys who assisted prosecutors in preparing witnesses and documents for the trial that began last week to decide only whether Moussaoui should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutors have told the jury that Moussaoui deserves to die because he lied to the FBI when he was arrested in August 2001, covering up his al Qaeda membership and the reason he was attending U.S. flight schools. Those lies, prosecutors allege, contributed to nearly 3,000 murders on September 11.

How aviation security officials might have improved airport security had Moussaoui alerted them -- possibly by banning short knives or adding conspirators' names to a "no fly" list -- is an integral part of the government's case. Without it, prosecutors say, their task is "impossible."

Martin, an attorney since 1990, has worked in the TSA's Office of Chief Counsel since 2002. Her salary is about $120,000 a year. She also worked at the FAA for 14 years.

Government employees under investigation are routinely placed on paid administrative leave.

CNN's John Roberts and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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