Thursday, April 21, 2005

Judge to allow 9/11 guilty plea

Judge to allow 9/11 guilty plea
A judge has ruled that Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person in the US charged over the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, can plead guilty.

Judge Leonie Brinkema has scheduled a Friday hearing at Alexandria district court, in the state of Virginia, a statement by the court said.

Judge Brinkema apparently made the decision after meeting Mr Moussaoui and his lawyers on Wednesday.

Mr Moussaoui faces a number of charges relating to the attacks.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The judge's ruling was said to hinge on whether the accused was considered competent to make the plea.

However, it is not clear to which charges he will plead guilty.

Trial delays

Mr Moussaoui - a French citizen of Moroccan origin - tried to plead guilty in 2002 but retracted the plea a week later.

The US government says he was a full member of the original team involved in the 2001 attacks when hijackers took over four passenger planes and deliberately crashed them.

Mr Moussaoui has also accused his court-appointed lawyers of wanting to have him executed and fired them.

But Judge Brinkema revoked Mr Moussaoui's right to defend himself.

His lawyers have argued against the death penalty, and are likely to oppose the guilty plea, if it means he could be sentenced to death.

The trial has been beset by delays.

In March, the US Supreme Court refused to examine an appeal by his team for access to US al-Qaeda suspects on security grounds.

Last year, federal judges barred Mr Moussaoui from calling people held at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as witnesses.

The court said the accused could only use government-prepared summaries of the interrogation statements from al-Qaeda suspects in Guantanamo.

The three judges also overruled a lower court decision by deciding that the death penalty could be used if there was a guilty verdict.