updated 9/11/2008 6:55:38 AM ET 2008-09-11T10:55:38

The trial of five men accused of plotting an attack on a military base in New Jersey will begin as scheduled on Sept. 29 despite an attempt by the defendants' lawyers to delay it, a judge said Tuesday.

Defense lawyers had said that with one expert witness bowing out, they needed more time to find another. Prosecutors sided with them, saying the request was reasonable because granting it would give the defense less grounds to appeal if there is a conviction.

"I'm not afraid of an appeal," said U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler.

"We could go on for years, spending millions more searching for that needle in the haystack and not finding it," said Kugler, who noted that the defense so far has cost taxpayers about $2 million.

The five defendants — Muslim men born in Turkey and the former Yugoslavia who have lived much of their lives in the southern New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia — were arrested in May 2007 and accused of plotting to sneak onto Fort Dix to attack soldiers.

They face charges including attempted murder, conspiracy and weapons offenses and could be sentenced to life in prison of they are convicted on all counts. They have been in federal custody since they were arrested.

Defense lawyers hired a former federal drug enforcement agent, Gregory Lee, to examine the way the informants were used and handled, but he is being deployed to Iraq next month with the Army Reserves. That presented a problem in scheduling his testimony.

Furthermore the Department of Defense bars military personnel from testifying against the country's interest in any trial. Although the regulation is not generally enforced for reservists, Lee chose not to testify.

Defense lawyers asked for time to find another expert.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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