ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The judge presiding over Zacarias Moussaoui's sentencing told trial lawyers that she doesn't believe Moussaoui's claims on the witness stand that he knew advance details of the Sept. 11 plot.
"I still think that Moussaoui was not accurate in a lot of what he said about how much he knew about what was going to happen with which particular buildings and when," U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said during a closed hearing on April 21 outside the jury's presence. Transcripts of the hearing were released Tuesday.
Moussaoui's bombshell testimony on March 27, in which he took the stand against the advice of his court-appointed lawyers and claimed a direct role in the Sept. 11 plot after years of denial, revived a moribund prosecution case. Defense attorneys have argued that Moussaoui lied on the stand either to inflate his role in history or antagonize the jury into making him a martyr through execution.
Specifically, Moussaoui claimed that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were to have flown a fifth plane on Sept. 11 into the White House, and that he also knew the World Trade Center towers were targeted.
Brinkema made her comment during a debate over jury instructions. She defended a technical ruling in favor of the defense as a way of "evening the playing field" in response to her concerns about Moussaoui's testimony.
Even though jurors have no way of knowing about Brinkema's editorial comment presuming they obey rules against following news coverage, prosecutor David Novak objected to her remark.
"With all due respect, that's the jury's decision to decide whether they found him to be credible or not," Novak told Brinkema.
A separate transcript released Tuesday revealed that defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to remove a juror from the panel after she expressed fears that the media would harass her after the trial concludes.
The unidentified female juror said that a coworker had deduced she was on the panel even though the jury is anonymous. She also said during the April 17 hearing — before deliberations began — that she fears losing her privacy.
Defense lawyers said she should be replaced because her fears might influence her decision, but Brinkema kept the juror on the panel after she said her concerns would not affect her decision.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury previously found Moussaoui eligible for execution after more than 16 hours of deliberations in late March and early April.
Although he was in jail on immigration violations on Sept. 11, the jury ruled that lies he told federal agents the month before the attacks kept them from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.