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Moussaoui’s mental health may be issue in sentencing

The mental health of terrorism defendant Zacarias Moussaoui could play a major role in his trial if his attorneys raise the issue to fight the death penalty,  the  government says.
Zacarias Moussaoui is the only person charged in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The mental health of terrorism defendant Zacarias Moussaoui is likely to play a significant role if the potential death penalty case reaches the penalty phase, the  government said in a motion Tuesday.

Prosecutors asked a judge for an order that would permit the government to conduct a mental examination — and receive mental health information on Moussaoui — if the defense plans to raise the issue.

The government would use the evaluation and medical information only to rebut any defense strategy to spare Moussaoui the death penalty by citing his mental condition, the motion said.

The prosecution said it raised the issue because a federal appeals panel in April restored the government’s right to seek the death penalty. The trial judge, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, had previously barred the government from seeking Moussaoui’s execution.

Moussaoui is the only U.S. defendant charged with participating in the al-Qaida plot that included the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He has denied a role in the airplane hijackings that day but has acknowledged that he belonged to al-Qaida.

“Like most capital cases, the mental condition of the defendant is likely to play a significant rule during the penalty phase,” the government motion said.

Gerald Zerkin, a lawyer for Moussaoui who specializes in death penalty cases, would not say whether the defense team would raise the mental health issue.

“I wouldn’t be discussing what I was or wasn’t going to do in a trial that may or may not take place,” Zerkin said.

The case of Moussaoui, who was indicted in late 2001, has been on hold because of a legal dispute over his access to al-Qaida witnesses held abroad in secret locations.