WASHINGTON – The lawyer accused by a judge of coaching witnesses in the death penalty case of Zacarias Moussaoui was placed on paid administrative leave from her job Thursday as the trial remained in recess.
The move was confirmed by Yolanda Clark, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.
The TSA lawyer, Carla Martin, violated federal witness rules when she sent trial transcripts to seven aviation witnesses, coached them on how to deflect defense attacks and lied to defense lawyers to prevent them from interviewing witnesses they wanted to call, a federal judge said Tuesday.
Martin's attorney, Roscoe Howard, did not immediately return calls seeking his comment on his client being placed on leave.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said that Martin's actions and other government missteps had left the aviation evidence "irremediably contaminated," and the judge has excluded virtually half of the prosecution's case against the confessed Al Qaeda conspirator.
Prosecutors now say their only hope of obtaining the death penalty for Moussaoui is to persuade the judge that she punished them too harshly for Martin's alleged witness tampering and lying.
The only person charged in this country in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly airplanes into U.S. buildings. But he denies any involvement in 9/11, saying he was training for a possible future attack.
The trial in Alexandria, Va., is to decide whether he is executed or spends life behind bars.
Now Martin is facing charges. Brinkema told her she could be charged with civil or criminal contempt, and later said she appeared to have violated rules of legal ethics. That means she could be fined, disbarred or imprisoned, or some combination of those.
Martin, whose formal title is attorney-adviser, earns about $120,000 a year, according to TSA officials. She came to the agency from the Federal Aviation Administration in April 2002.