ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Defense lawyers for confessed Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui said Tuesday they oppose efforts of a Pennsylvania congressman to avoid testifying at Moussaoui's death-penalty trial.
Moussaoui's lawyers subpoenaed Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., earlier this month to testify for Moussaoui's defense. Weldon is seeking to quash the subpoena, saying that Moussaoui is a "thug" and that he has congressional immunity from the subpoena.
Weldon has said that the government knew more about the Sept. 11 hijackers than it has publicly admitted.
In court Tuesday, defense lawyer Edward MacMahon said he will oppose Weldon's efforts to quash the subpoena.
The government's knowledge prior to 9/11 of the hijackers' plans will be a key issue at Moussaoui's sentencing. Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with Al Qaeda to fly planes into U.S. buildings. But he denies any involvement in 9/11 and says he was training to fly a plane into the White House as part of a possible future attack.
To obtain the death penalty, the government must prove Moussaoui's actions directly led to the Sept. 11 attacks, and the government will argue that Moussaoui could have prevented 9/11 if he had not lied to authorities about his terrorist connections when he was arrested in August 2001.
The defense argues that the government knew more about the hijackers' plans than Moussaoui and was still unable to prevent the attacks.
Meanwhile, jury selection continued with an additional eight jurors preliminarily qualified Tuesday morning to serve on the panel that will decide whether Moussaoui gets the death penalty or life in prison. Seven jurors were disqualified.
So far, the judge has approved 40 jurors for service in four days of questioning in which jurors have been quizzed about their views on the death penalty, their knowledge of Moussaoui and Al Qaeda and their feelings about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, among other issues.
A pool of 85 jurors is needed because prosecutors and defense lawyers will each be permitted to use up to 30 peremptory — or unexplained — strikes to help whittle the pool down to the final panel of 18 — 12 plus six alternates — that will hear opening statements March 6.
Lawyers may use their peremptory challenges to strike a juror for any reason they choose, except that they cannot strike a juror solely on the basis of race or gender. Lawyers do not have to explain why they strike a juror.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the pace of jury selection has exceeded her expectations and she is bringing in more jurors this week for questioning than originally planned.