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Terror judge rejects trial day

Disputes delay Moussaoui case

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A judge rejected requests yesterday to set a trial date for terrorism defendant Zacarias Moussaoui, citing pretrial disputes over his access to Al Qaeda witnesses and his eligibility for the death penalty.

Prosecutors had asked that the trial begin May 31, the day after Memorial Day, but US District Judge Leonie Brinkema denied the request. Moussaoui, the only US defendant charged in the conspiracy that led to the Sept. 11 attacks, is being held at Alexandria's detention center.

Brinkema said in a two-page order that intense pretrial work in her court, including the handling of classified information, cannot resume until Moussaoui has exhausted pretrial appeals.

Moussaoui was indicted in December 2001, charged with participating in an Al Qaeda conspiracy to commit terrorism and attack the United States. The conspiracy included the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but was not limited to them, the government said.

Moussaoui has acknowledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden but said he was not going to be part of the Sept. 11 hijackings. He had been arrested for immigration violations before they occurred.

The court-appointed lawyers for the French citizen have informed Brinkema they will ask the Supreme Court for direct access to three Al Qaeda prisoners, two of them former high-ranking members of bin Laden's network. The defense also wants the possibility of the death penalty eliminated.

"Until the Supreme Court has ruled on the petition, and on defendant's appeal if the petition is granted, this case will remain stayed to conserve limited resources of the judiciary and to minimize disclosure of classified information," Brinkema said.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has refused defense lawyers the right to directly question the prisoners but instead ordered Brinkema to find acceptable ways to provide information from interrogation statements. The court also kept the death penalty in the case.

Even after the Supreme Court resolves pretrial issues, Brinkema said, she would need to re-evaluate handling of classified evidence.

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