ALEXANDRIA, Va. – With few objections and accelerated questioning, a federal judge quickly added nine more potential jurors Wednesday to the pool that will decide whether Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is executed or imprisoned for life.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema streamlined her questioning, eliminated breaks and selected the nine over only two defense objections and no government protests. Eight others were sent home, mostly because they would face financial hardship from service that might last three months.
To no avail, defense attorney Gerald Zerkin objected to a man who had read nearly all the Sept. 11 Commission report and who carpools with people who worked at the Pentagon when Al Qaeda attacked it. He argued that the man had too many opinions about the case, but Brinkema found the would-be juror well-informed but not prejudiced.
Zerkin also objected to a woman who endorsed the concept of "an eye for an eye" and the death penalty for intentional murder, but Brinkema said she was willing to consider mitigating factors.
At his separate table, Moussaoui took notes and had two brief exchanges with defense attorney Alan Yamamoto, perhaps his favorite among the court-appointed defense team he regularly denounces. He also arranged to see Yamamoto during a recess, but nevertheless left court muttering, "God curse Zerkin, America and Yamamoto."
Brinkema has selected 59 potential jurors. By March 6, she wants 85 from which the final 12 jurors and six alternates will be chosen to decide whether Moussaoui is executed or spends life in prison.
On Tuesday, Brinkema again increased the number summoned to court for questioning about their views on the death penalty, their knowledge of Moussaoui and Al Qaeda and their feelings about Al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Other issues that need resolution before opening statements on March 6 grew Tuesday.
Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers said they want to compel a reluctant Pennsylvania congressman to testify. The government opposed a bid by news organizations to get access during trial — rather than afterward as Brinkema ordered — to exhibits in evidence and bench conference transcripts. Meanwhile, defense attorneys and prosecutors prepare for another closed argument over which government secrets can be introduced at trial.
Moussaoui's lawyers subpoenaed Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. But Weldon declared he didn't want to be used by a "thug" like Moussaoui and claimed congressional immunity from testifying.
Weldon says the government knew more about the Sept. 11 hijackers before the attack than it has publicly admitted.
He claims a military intelligence unit called Able Danger identified some hijackers well before they flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Weldon wrote in a book that he saw some of those names on an Able Danger chart.
Defense lawyer Edward MacMahon told Brinkema on Tuesday he will oppose Weldon's effort to quash the subpoena.
What the government knew about the hijackers before Sept. 11 will be an issue at Moussaoui's sentencing. The 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 the Sept. 11 attacks and says he was training to fly a plane into the White House as part of a possible future attack.