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`Weapons of Mass Destruction' Defined for Moussaoui Jury

March 31, 2006|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Jurors deliberating Thursday in the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial asked for legal guidance on a capital murder charge that alleged he conspired to use "weapons of mass destruction."

The jury of 12 asked U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema for a legal definition of that phrase, and she told them that in this case it meant turning airplanes into "missiles, bombs or similar devices."

The charge is a component of one of the key allegations against the admitted Al Qaeda terrorist. Moussaoui, 37, was arrested three weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He testified Monday that his intended role in the conspiracy was to crash a fifth airplane, into the White House, that day..

The jury is to decide whether Moussaoui, who has pleaded guilty, is eligible for the death penalty because he lied to FBI agents after his arrest.

Prosecutors maintain that had he cooperated with authorities about the Sept. 11 plot, the government could have obtained enough information to stop the 19 hijackers.

The defense contends that the federal law enforcement apparatus at that time was so disjointed that officials never would have unraveled the plot even with Moussaoui's help.

Thursday was the first full day of deliberations. Jurors did not reach a verdict and are to resume work today.

In another development, the court unsealed transcripts of a closed March 21 hearing between prosecutors and defense lawyers in which it was disclosed that the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia was investigating the conduct of government lawyer Carla J. Martin.

Martin, a senior attorney with the Transportation Security Administration, is accused of improperly tampering with Federal Aviation Administration witnesses whom prosecutors and defense lawyers had planned to call during the trial.

According to evidence and testimony against her, Martin sent the witnesses copies of court transcripts and coached them on their planned testimony, all in violation of a February order by Brinkema.

The judge was incensed, and severely restricted the amount of aviation testimony in the trial. As it turned out, prosecutors called just one federal aviation official.

"I'm advised by the U.S. attorney's office that there may very well be a prosecution of her; at least they're looking at the possibility," Brinkema said of Martin.

The judge had wanted Martin to take the stand and explain her conduct. But Brinkema said in the closed hearings that Martin's lawyer, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., was "not ready to recommend she testify yet."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert A. Spencer said the matter was referred to the Philadelphia office because of the conflict with the prosecutors trying Moussaoui.

Spencer's fellow prosecutor David J. Novak told the judge they had been "unhappy with Ms. Martin before this episode happened."

Martin has declined to comment.

Her lawyer initially said she was eager to tell her side of the story, but he has declined to discuss the matter since.

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