ALEXANDRIA, Va., April 26, 2002
"None of the acts Moussaoui is alleged to have committed, including the act of joining the conspiracy, regardless of the criminal intent of that conspiracy, can be said to have directly caused any deaths."
(CBS) In unusually harsh language, lawyers for the man indicted as an accomplice in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks contended Friday that the government wants to execute Zacarias Moussaoui because no one else is available.
The court-appointed lawyers, whom Moussaoui himself wants to dismiss, argued in a written brief that the government is ignoring provisions of the federal death penalty law in order "to pander to a public or a jury which it would like to overheat by waving the flag."
In papers filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., Moussaoui’s defense team asked Judge Leonie Brinkema to bar the government from seeking the death penalty.
Last month prosecutors told the court Moussaoui — the only person indicted for the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed some 3,000 people — should be executed.
Moussaoui has been charged with conspiring with Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to carry out the hijacked plane attacks, in which 19 hijackers died. U.S. officials have said Moussaoui may have been preparing to be the 20th hijacker
"None of the acts Moussaoui is alleged to have committed, including the act of joining the conspiracy, regardless of the criminal intent of that conspiracy, can be said to have directly caused any deaths," Moussaoui’s defense team said in the motion.
Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French citizen who was in custody on immigration charges on Sept. 11, has been indicted on six counts — four of which carry a possible death sentence.
The defense response to the U.S. government’s decision to seek the death penalty came after Moussaoui told Brinkema on Monday he wanted to defend himself and fire his court-appointed lawyers, saying they did not understand him and were part of a conspiracy to kill him.
The defense team was ordered to remain in place pending results of a mental exam to determine Moussaoui’s competency to represent himself in court. The latest filing was signed by Moussaoui and all four lawyers.
CBS News Reporter Stephanie Lambidakis reports that there will be a hearing on this issue on May 15. The defense had until next Wednesday to file the motion, buy did it early because of their expected firing by Moussaoui.
The defense team said in its motion that the 19 suspected hijackers were in the United States and in contact with each other before Moussaoui arrived in the country, and noted that Moussaoui was in jail for an entire month before Sept. 11.
"The hijackers successfully completed the hijackings without any assistance from him," they said, noting that the U.S. government had not accused Moussaoui of contact with any of the 19 hijackers.
The defense said just joining a conspiracy — even one that contemplated causing many deaths — could not be punished by a death sentence under the Federal Death Penalty Act.
"When all is said and done, the government wants to execute someone so badly for the events of September 11 that, because no one else is available, it is willing to ignore the plain requirements of the law to make Moussaoui death-eligible not based on anything he actually did, but on what it insists he wanted to do," the motion said.
"If the government intends to rely on some acts other than the joining of a conspiracy as the predicate for his death eligibility, the fact is that no other specific act which he is alleged to have committed or in which he allegedly participated contributed in any way to the Sept. 11 attacks," it said.
The defense also disputed one of the non-statutory aggravating factors cited by prosecutors when they announced they would seek the death penalty.
In its March 28 court filing, the government said: "Moussaoui, a French citizen, entered the United States where he then enjoyed the educational opportunities available in a free society, for the purpose of gaining specialized knowledge in flying an aircraft in order to kill as many American citizens as possible."
The defense team said prosecutors want Moussaoui executed for his political beliefs.
"Beyond the inexplicable but unavoidable implication that the United States is a free society whereas France is not, this factor is constitutionally deficient because it plainly seeks to make Moussaoui’s citizenship an alleged … exploitation of American political values relevant to the death determination," the legal brief said. "The government’s attempt to put him to death based upon his French citizenship and his entry into the United States as a foreign national is unconstitutional."