The jury weighing Zacarias Moussaoui’s role in the deaths on Sept. 11, 2001, asked for a definition of “weapons of mass destruction” Thursday as it worked to decide whether the al-Qaida conspirator is eligible for the death penalty.
The jury finished the day without reaching a verdict and was to resume its deliberations on Friday.
The jurors obtained the weapons definition as deliberations neared four hours. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told them the term includes airplanes used as missiles. One of the three convictions on which Moussaoui could receive the death penalty is conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
The nine men and three women, who got the case late Wednesday, then returned to deliberate whether Moussaoui is a calculating terrorist responsible for the deaths of Americans on Sept. 11 or an al-Qaida lackey with delusions of grandeur who had no role in 9/11.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia are investigating a government lawyer who nearly derailed Moussaoui’s sentencing trial by coaching witnesses and lying to his defense attorneys.
The criminal investigation of Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin was revealed in the recently unsealed transcript of a closed March 21 hearing in the Moussaoui case.
At that hearing, Brinkema disclosed that she had been “advised by the U.S. Attorney’s office that there may very well be a prosecution of her, at least they’re looking at the possibility.”
Rob Spencer, the lead prosecutor in Moussaoui’s case, said the matter was referred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where Martin is a member of the bar. Prosecutors in Alexandria decided to take no part in the investigation.
Rich Manieri, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, declined comment.
Moussaoui’s defense lawyers have said Martin should be charged with witness tampering.
Martin’s misconduct interrupted Moussaoui’s trial for a week and almost derailed it.
Concerned that prosecutors overstated the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to prevent the 9/11 attacks, Martin coached seven federal officials who were to testify about aviation security at Moussaoui’s trial. She urged them to read transcripts of the trial’s first day and warned them to be prepared for tough cross-examination on certain topics. This violated Brinkema’s order barring witnesses from exposure to trial proceedings, for fear they would shape their testimony based on what they had heard.
After a hearing — without the jury — into Martin’s misconduct, Brinkema barred the government from presenting any evidence about aviation security. But after prosecutors protested that was half their case, Brinkema let them present an aviation witness who was untainted by Martin’s misconduct.
Martin has refused to testify. Her lawyer, Roscoe Howard, has said she will explain herself at the appropriate time.
As the government lawyer assigned to the seven witnesses, Martin served as liaison between them and the trial lawyers. She also helped prosecutors prepare exhibits.
Moussaoui was arrested Aug. 16, 2001, while taking flight training in Minnesota. He told federal agents he was in the U.S. as a tourist. Prosecutors contend that if Moussaoui had confessed his al-Qaida membership and plans to fly a jetliner into a U.S. building, the FBI could have unraveled the 9/11 plot.
Defense attorney Edward MacMahon said FBI headquarters ignored the arresting agent who warned that Moussaoui was an Islamic terrorist bent on hijacking, and it likely would have ignored whatever Moussaoui said. But MacMahon contended the 37-year-old Frenchman really was just “an al-Qaida hanger-on” who only dreamed of having a role in 9/11.
If this jury unanimously decides Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, it will reconvene to hear more testimony, including from the families of 9/11 victims, about whether he deserves to be executed.
If the jury cannot agree on eligibility, defense attorneys say he should automatically get a life sentence. Prosecutors argue a hung jury should result in a mistrial, which would allow them to retry him. The judge has not ruled.