The full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined Wednesday to consider witness access and death penalty issues raised by terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, making it more likely that the case can proceed to trial.
The Richmond, Va.-based court said none of the judges requested a rehearing of the issues already decided by a three-judge panel.
Unless there are further appeals, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Va. can now resolve the dispute over Moussaoui’s access to three al-Qaida prisoners and set a trial date.
Moussaoui’s lawyers have been arguing — unsuccessfully — for direct access to the high-ranking captives, who have told interrogators that Moussaoui had no role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At other times, the prisoners have made conflicting statement’s about Moussaoui’s mission.
The court-appointed defense team also has been trying, without success, to have the appellate court bar the government from seeking the death penalty if Moussaoui is convicted.
Moussaoui is the only U.S. defendant charged with participating in an al-Qaida terrorism conspiracy that included the Sept. 11 airplane hijackings. An acknowledged member of al-Qaida, he has said in court papers he was to be part of a later operation.
In its previous ruling, the appellate panel ordered the trial judge to work with lawyers to give Moussaoui access to the witnesses’ statements — and to permit defense attorneys to submit additional questions. The panel also allowed the government to seek the death penalty.
Moussaoui, who was arrested a month prior to the attacks when he aroused suspicions at a flight school, was indicted in December 2001.