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March 13, 2006

Judge Brinkema Creates A Pretext For Avoidng Death Penalty For Moussaoui

She's always wanted to avoid it, but the government may have given her a slender excuse for doing so:

The sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui teetered on the brink of a mistrial this morning, as the judge in the case angrily said she might spare him the death penalty following the disclosure that a government lawyer had improperly coached some witnesses.

"In all my years on the bench, I've never seen a more egregious violation of the rule about witnesses," Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said.

After a brief discussion, the judge recessed the hearing, saying she would consider a request from Mr. Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers that she end the sentencing trial, now in its second week, and order that he be imprisoned for life instead of executed, as the government has urged.

No papers were filed about the incident, but during the discussion it appeared that a lawyer for a federal aviation agency, identified in court only as Ms. Martin, improperly gave information to aviation officials who are scheduled to testify at the trial.

Judge Brinkema had earlier ordered that people scheduled to testify not be given access to transcripts by prior witnesses, a common order in such cases.

A federal official speaking after the morning hearing identified the lawyer as Carla J. Martin of the Transportation Security Administration. The official said that Ms. Martin had given a transcript of testimony on March 6 by an F.B.I. agent, Michael Anticev, and transcripts of opening arguments, to two Federal Aviation Administration officials, Lynne A. Osmus and Claudio Manno.

One official defies a court's order, so the proper response is to spare a vicious mass-murder-plotting terrorist the death penalty? How much could the witness' testimony have actually changed? What real difference does any of this make as far as Moussaoui's guilt?

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posted by Ace at 12:21 PM

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