[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, FLA., VA.
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Sun Feb 5 23:29:16 CST 2006
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Execution Set For Murderer Of Arlington Girl
Robert Neville confessed to abducting, torturing and shooting Amy Robinson
of Arlington in 1998.
Only on CBS 11 News, her mother and sister spoke to reporter Brooke Richie
about Neville's much anticipated execution date.
Neville's execution is scheduled for Wednesday and Amy's mother and
sisters will be there.
It's a day Amy's family says they've both awaited and dreaded.
The memories of Amy never fade... neither does the pain.
"Her smile. In every one of her pictures, she's smiling. It's never going
to go away. The torture's already there. It's got me," said Tina Robinson,
But a long-awaited milestone might help.
"I think I'll feel better about myself. I don't feel like he should be
around. My sister's not here. Why should he be?" said Ruth Robinson, Amy's
sister. Neville is scheduled to die Wednesday, exactly one week before the
8th anniversary of Amy Robinson's murder.
Back in 2001 Neville spoke about the murder. "I could still see her after
the first time I shot her. That's a very vivid picture there."
Neville and his friend, Michael Wayne Hall, confessed to snatching Amy as
she rode her bike to work at an Arlington supermarket.
They admitted torturing the mentally-challenged teen, then shooting her 7
"Whenever you lose a child, its a go numb situation. I'm starting to come
out of it and this is just putting me right back in it again," Tina said.
Neville eventually dropped his appeals and surrendered to his fate. To
Amy's family, gathered at her grave as they do daily, his execution is
justified by their grief.
"It tore me up. As a person, he's not a person in my book. It's just the
way I feel. He deserves what he gets," Tina said.
The other killer, Michael Wayne Hall, is also on death row. His execution
date has not been set.
(source: CBS News)
'An elected district attorney is a manager'
Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry is unfazed by criticism from
his opponent in the March 7 Republican primary that his public profile is
so low that he has almost no profile.
"I'm not prepared to agree that a low profile is a bad thing," Curry said
to members of the paper's Editorial Board during an interview last week.
Given how one high-profile Texas district attorney has behaved in recent
months, making his office a political lightning rod -- can you say "Ronnie
Earle"? -- Curry has a point.
Fort Worth attorney Kirk Claunch, the challenger, is characterizing the
33-year incumbent as a functionary rather than a leader who is out front
and, at times, trying cases. Claunch often cites his military experience
of leading combat engineers on de-mining missions in Iraq as proof of his
skills as a leader who doesn't just delegate but shares the burdens of the
Curry, 67, dismissed the analogy in his typical, plain-talking way.
"An elected district attorney is a manager, not a trial lawyer," he said.
"Those DAs who do go into the courtroom do it for political purposes. My
job is to hire the best people. I can do both, but I can't do both very
And Curry is mighty proud of the people he has hired throughout his tenure
heading the county's largest legal agency. With 155 lawyers and 54
investigators among the office's 324 employees, Curry said he'll stack his
shop up against any in the state.
"You don't see scandals in Tarrant County," he said. "We have more career
prosecutors than ever. We have very low turnover. We lose talent as a
result of young lawyers going to the private sector to make more money,
not because of a morale problem.
"The staff didn't just appear. I went out and recruited them, and we've
got the best team in the state."
Given what Curry has heard his opponent say during various candidate
forums, he questions whether Claunch -- who has never prosecuted a case
and, in Curry's estimation, has limited criminal trial experience --
understands the scope of the office.
"All I've heard him say is that his year in Iraq qualifies him to lead the
biggest law firm in the county," Curry said. "That just doesn't make
Curry was unruffled when asked about the oft-rumored complaint among
police officers that his office will only take slam-dunk cases and won't
try the tough ones.
"Without question, we are different from Dallas County," he said. "They
take every case the Police Department brings and wash the bad ones out at
the grand jury. We wash out the dogs on the front end. I don't want to
waste the grand jury's time by presenting cases that aren't good."
Curry was pleased to talk about how his office is now saving police
officers' time when it comes to filing those cases. His staff is in the
process of implementing the state's first entirely paperless DA's office,
a project that has taken three years to develop. More than 90 % of the
cases filed by Tarrant County's various municipal police departments are
transmitted electronically, eliminating the need for an officer to
physically carry a paper file to intake staff in the downtown office or
one of three subcourthouse locations.
"Say it takes an officer an hour to file a case," Curry said. "We handle
45,000 cases in a year. When calculated for an 8-hour shift, that's 5,625
days worth of savings for officers who can be back out on the streets."
The criminal division eventually will be entirely paper-free, with all key
participants in the criminal justice system accessing needed information
Although Curry readily admitted that he's "going to take a lot of credit
for this deal," he was quick to praise "the kids" -- the young,
computer-savvy lawyers -- who brought the idea to the attention of the
office's "senior partners."
His personal computer knowledge may be limited to sending and answering
e-mail, but Curry deserves kudos for enabling his staff to make this
revolutionary leap in technology. It's one of the reasons why he'd like to
put in another 4 years as the DA.
Curry made noises in the past about not running for re-election this time
around, but the circumstances in his personal life changed his viewpoint
on that professional decision.
His bride of almost 3 years operates an event-planning business that keeps
her on the run. If he retired, he said, he'd be at loose ends, and "I
don't want to spend the day watching soaps or drinking my lunch."
"The day I wake up and don't want to go to work will be the day I retire.
In the meantime, this is still a challenging job to me, and I think I do
it very well."
Republican voters will have the opportunity to decide whether they agree
on March 7.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Jill "J.R." Labbe is deputy editorial
page editor of the Star-Telegram)
3 running in invisible race
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charles Holcomb is seeking
re-election even though he would be forced to step down after serving less
than 1/3 of a new 6-year term. Holcomb is 73. On Sept. 8, 2008, he will no
longer be eligible to serve because state judges must retire at 75.
The judge said his colleagues on the state's highest criminal court urged
him to seek re-election despite his age.
"My health is good," the judge said, adding that he finds the work
At least 2 Texans don't think Holcomb should be given a stub term. They
are Rep. Terry Keel of Austin and District Judge Robert Francis of Dallas.
Keel and Francis want to occupy Holcomb's seat, and they are challenging
him in the GOP primary.
Holcomb is completing his first term on the court. Previously, he served a
six-year term on the 12th Court of Appeals and spent 18 years as county
attorney and district attorney of Cherokee County.
"I feel that I'm a moderate judge and that I've got the experience," he
Keel stirred up controversy when he asked the Texas Republican Party to
toss Holcomb and Francis off the ballot because of problems with the
signatures they collected to obtain a position on the ballot. The party
removed them, but after a legal battle, the Texas Supreme Court gave them
new life as candidates.
"If you're going to run for the highest judicial office in the state, you
ought to at least follow the law," said Keel, who is completing his fifth
term as a member of the Texas House. Before becoming a lawmaker, Keel made
history as the first Republican elected as Travis County sheriff in modern
Although Keel lacks judicial experience, he served on the House Criminal
Jurisprudence Committee and argues that he will have more insight into
legislative intent as a result.
"I think the court needs a lawyer sitting on the bench with political
experience," Keel said.
Francis, who has been a district judge for a decade, said he believes the
appellate court needs a judge with trial experience.
Noting that he is board certified in criminal law, Francis said his
experience offers more value to the court than Keel's.
"If we were running for speaker of the House, I think he would have a leg
up on me, but not in a judicial race," Francis said.
While the court has been controversial at times for being too
results-oriented, most recently in favor of prosecutors, the challengers
aren't critical of the current direction.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions overturning the state court in death penalty
cases have pushed the jurists in a moderate direction.
The debate over qualifications, Keel's effort to eliminate the competition
and Holcomb's age will have little meaning in the race.
Court of criminal appeals campaigns are virtually invisible. They don't
attract large contributions like races for civil benches, and most voters
don't know what the court does.
"Most people don't know who is on it or that there are 9 of them," said
"Many times it seems that the ballot name is more determinate than the
qualifications, so you've had a lot of dead heroes and grocery commodities
that have been elected over the years."
Keel used his political connections to round up support from many public
officials and the National Rifle Association.
Francis hopes his name identification in Dallas will carry the day.
Holcomb is philosophical about the race. "If I don't win, I'll just go off
into the sunset," he said.
The one certainty is that most voters will know very little about the
contenders when they pick a candidate in this race.
(source: San Antonio Express-News)
Influencing the death penalty -- Family viewing policy changing capital
It began a decade ago as a method to give comfort to families that had
lost loved ones to the state's most violent offenders.
But in the 10 years since the state began allowing victims' family members
to view prisoner executions, the policy has added a new dimension to the
polarized capital punishment debate - with proponents and opponents
pointing toward differing impacts.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice always has allowed offenders'
families in the Huntsville death chamber, but the push for victims'
families began in 1995, when advocates petitioned the Texas Board of
Criminal Justice, said Raven Kazen, director of TDCJ's victim services
The board made an agency rule granting the request in January 1996,
allowing 5 close relatives to view the Feb. 9, 1996, execution of Leo
Jenkins, who was condemned for a 1988 double homicide in Houston.
The policy has been a success, with family members attending 206 out of
the 252 executions carried out since the rule was established, Kazen said.
It also has proven to be the healing step proponents envisioned, she said.
"Some victims want to witness because they've got to make sure justice is
carried out," Kazen said. "They need that spiritually and mentally more
than they need to see them executed."
Though there may be some healing value for family witnesses, the core
issues in the capital punishment debate remain, said Amarillo lawyer Jeff
Blackburn, chief counsel for the West Texas Innocence Project and a
capital punishment opponent.
"It all sort of begs the real question: is the purpose of the criminal
justice system to make people feel better about their lives and their
loss?" he said.
Dianne Clements, president of the Houston-based victim advocacy group
Justice for All and a capital punishment supporter, said it is the state's
job to respond to violent crime victims.
"If that includes allowing (families) to witness the execution, then it's
the right thing to do," Clements said.
Work by groups such as the Innocence Project and scientific techniques for
reviewing evidence are calling executions into question across the
country, Blackburn said.
During the past 15 years, the project has exonerated 39 people in Texas,
about a third of which involved death penalty convictions, he said.
Those figures point to needed reforms in a system that Blackburn said is
biased toward victims, including more prosecutorial oversight and closing
the funding gap between public defenders and prosecutors.
Clements said those same problems often plague prosecutors.
Defense lawyers without adequate resources or skills shouldn't be picked
to defend capital murder suspects, she said.
Debates aside, Clements and Blackburn said that the policy is having an
effect on the issue in Texas.
Clements said family witnessing strengthens the opinion that the death
penalty is an appropriate societal answer to violent crime.
"Those that have (viewed) can testify with greater authority how important
it is, and how they believe the death penalty is a morally just
punishment," she said.
Blackburn said the state's family viewing policy could turn the tide in
death penalty opponents' favor.
As the public learns more about the process, they are becoming displeased,
"I would predict that within 10 more years, we will see at a minimum a
significant reduction in death penalty punishments," Blackburn said.
>From the region
6 area offenders have been executed since the state began allowing victim
- Joe Gonzales Jr., 36. Sentenced to death for the 1992 shooting death of
William J. Veader, 50, in Amarillo. Gonzales served the shortest time on
death row in Texas history - 252 days.
- Benjamin H. Boyle, 54. Truck driver convicted of killing Gail Lenore
Smith, 20, in October 1985. Smith's body was found near the Canadian River
bridge on Highway 287.
- David Stoker, 37. Sentenced for the November 1986 robbery-slaying of
David Manrrique, 50, a store clerk, in Hale Center.
- Paul Selso Nuncio, 31. Sentenced for the 1993 beating, rape and
strangulation death of Pauline Farris, 61, in Plainview.
- Randall Wayne Hafdahl Sr., 48. Sentenced in the 1985 shooting death of
an off-duty Amarillo police officer, James D. Mitchell Jr., 42.
- Granville Riddle, 33. Convicted in the 1988 beating death of Ronnie Hood
Bennett, 39, in Amarillo.
[source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice]
(source: The Amarillo Globe-News)
Battling the Aryan Brothers----Prosecutors bid to break up a vicious
Barry Byron Mills is a bank robber who will spend the rest of his life in
prison. An alleged leader of the notorious Aryan Brotherhood prison gang,
Mills stabbed a fellow inmate to death with a handmade knife 27 years ago,
adding two life sentences to his time. Now 57, he likes to project a
softer side. He spends his spare time crocheting, and writes love letters
to lonely women on the outside who have a weak spot for prison toughs.
But in those same letters, prosecutors say, Mills passed along secret
instructions to Aryan Brotherhood members, enabling him to help run a
nationwide extortion and drug-trafficking enterprise from behind bars. Now
Mills and three other alleged members are the first set of defendants
facing multiple counts of murder, conspiracy and racketeering in the most
sweeping indictment to date of the Brotherhood. Rather than chase down the
members one by one, frustrated officials are hoping to take down the
enterprise en masse, the way prosecutors once did with the Mafia.
40 alleged members have been charged in the case. About half have pleaded
guilty. Jury selection for the trial of the rest began last week.
Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against at least 8 of the
defendants - including Mills - making it one of the largest capital cases
in U.S. history. (Dean Steward, a lawyer for Mills, says his client, who
pleaded not guilty to all pending charges, was just doing what it took to
survive in prison. "Federal penitentiaries are dangerous, violent places,"
he says. "My client and these others are small minorities within the
After a 6-year investigation, now comes the next challenge for law
enforcement: how to hold a fair trial while protecting the lives of the
judge, jurors, witnesses and lawyers in the courtroom. 5 years ago an
Aryan Brotherhood member on trial broke free of his handcuffs, seized a
television and hurled it at the judge. Another stabbed his own attorney
with a metal shank he'd smuggled into the courthouse.
Prosecutors acknowledge they're taking a risk by bringing so many of the
men into a courtroom together, but they say they have no choice. "There
really was an idea that it should be a body blow against the gang," says a
government employee close to the case who requested anonymity because the
judge asked all participants not to speak to the press. The defendants
will be tried in small groups at Santa Ana, Calif.'s federal courthouse,
in a tiered courtroom built especially for high-threat cases. Federal
marshals won't discuss security details, but attorneys confirm that the
defendants' shackles will be bolted to the floor, their restraints hidden
from the jury by panels. Prosecutors will call several Aryan Brotherhood
members turned informants, now hidden away in the prison system under
protective custody, to testify against Mills and the others.
Even if prosecutors win their case, it may not be enough to shut down the
gang for good. "Typically, [prosecution] does disrupt the group," says
Tony Delgado, a gang expert with the Ohio Bureau of Prisons. But "you've
just got to keep plugging away at them." Just ask Mikey Lando. An Aryan
Brotherhood member since 1984, Lando, 56, now living in Elmira, N.Y., on
disability pay, says he isn't worried about the "crew's" future. "You're
never going to cripple the Aryan Brotherhood. If you kill one, there's
going to be 3 more in its place."
Documentary measures powerful toll of wrongful imprisonment
Like the film and its subjects, Friday night's Boston premiere of the
documentary After Innocence was blissfully free of pretense.
Crowd fashion? Funky urban professional. Red carpet? Only where hot
tamales might have spilled.
Which was just fine with Dennis Maher, the Lowell native and Tewksbury
resident who became a film star the hard way.
Maher, 45, was arrested in Lowell on rape charges in 1983. He spent 19
years, 2 months, 29 days in prison.
It took The Innocence Project, which frees wrongfully convicted prisoners
through DNA evidence, to prove he was the wrong man. The 127th wrong man
they'd set free, on April 3, 2003.
The small theater in the Kendall Square Cinema was sold out for the
showing, and packed with many of the people who mean the most to Maher.
His Innocence Project attorney, Aliza Kaplan, the MCI-Walpole therapist
Nancy Dizio, who helped him come to terms with anger and stress in prison.
At least two men who served time with Maher in the same facility. State
Sen. Patricia Jehlen, who sponsored the bill that compensates the
wrongfully convicted. Civil-rights attorneys bumped khaki'd knees on the
backs of seats of activists.
And there were two men who were wrongfully convicted, then freed, like
Maher. Vincent Moto of Philadelphia (who served more than a decade on a
rape charge) and Scott Hornoff, a Warwick, R.I. police officer who left
prison after six and one-half years when the real killer confessed.
Maher showed up in denim to see the film for the 10th time. Supporting it
is part of his mission now.
Writer-producer Marc Simon introduced the film, noting that "local hero"
Maher and the others would speak later.
And for 96 minutes, the crowd of about 130 sat in the small deco-appointed
theater and watched director Jessica Sanders' film. As the title suggests,
it's about the burdens of what happens once the jail doors swing open and
the wrongfully convicted breathe the air of the free.
Even that can be problematic. Nick Yarris says fresh air sickened him.
Until DNA freed him, he spent 23 years in solitary confinement on death
row for the murder he didn't commit.
Nowhere is the hole in the system more evident than in the case of Wilton
Dedge, a man whose blank face seems to show the toll prison can take.
After 2 decades, DNA hair tests exclude him from a rape, but the
prosecutors block a hearing on the evidence for 3 years while Dedge
languishes in jail.
One of the film's most moving scenes is a tour of his parents'
flamingo-strewn house, his father saying, "we're ready for our boy to come
His eventual release is vindication beyond vindictiveness, a slow-motion
victory waltz of hugs and tears.
After Innocence is devastating. If you ever wondered about the legal
systems foibles, here they are, writ large, the fullness of injustice in
The film has won several awards, beginning with the Sundance festival a
year ago. It follows eight exonerees as they confront the walls that
confront them once they are released: Job searches, money troubles,
records unexpunged, societal judgments.
Maher is shown released from prison, and 4 months later in Lowell, living
with his parents.
He pulls out a sofa to sleep in what was his folks' entertainment room. He
heads to the racetrack with his dad, Donat Maher, who says, "when he was
in jail, I lost interest in everything."
There's Maher's 43rd birthday, his family crowded around a cake in the
kitchen, singing to him. He tells the story of his arrest in Cupples
Square. Maher crosses Broadway Street and heads into the Acre Pub, where
the boys at the bar can't believe his temperament. He's got "no grudges
against nothing," marvels one barfly.
Later, Maher, a top mechanic, goes to work the nightshift repairing
His boss, Mike Duve, calls him "old school," a "good mechanic," adding
he's surprised Maher isn't bitter.
There Maher is online, looking for a date on Match.com, where his address
is DNA Dennis127.
And there he is at the signing of the state's compensation bill, which has
since yielded him $500,000 for nearly 2 decades in jail. He chokes up when
he speaks at the ceremony.
And as the film closes, he and his fiancee (now wife), Melissa, visit
Lowell General Hospital for an ultrasound test before the birth of their
1st child, Joshua Elijah, now 1.
Maher, Moto and Hornoff answer questions following the screening.
Only Maher is working full time.
Maher says he wore his innocence like a badge in prison.
"I worked in the prison kitchen. I was well-known in there. I cooked for
the administrators. And I said I was innocent all along, and when I was
released, there were a lot of disappointed people. I was a good cook."
One of his fellow Walpole inmates in the crowd offers a confession.
"I doubted Dennis's innocence. I mean, for a guy who handled things so
good, and treated himself and everyone with respect, I thought, if I was
innocent, I'd be angry and let everyone know it. So I want to publicly
apologize to him for ever doubting him."
"I've done them before but this was more powerful knowing a lot of people
in the theater," says Maher, between greeting well-wishers in the lobby.
He stayed until everyone else had left.
Simon, the producer/writer, worked with The Innocence Project while in law
He calls Maher "a hero," "graceful" and "amazing."
Especially in the way his life has moved on, devoid of bitterness, as if
he checks off a list. Job, check. Wife, check. Child, check.
Maher recently purchased a three-bedroom house in Tewksbury.
2 months ago, the Army finally gave him an honorable discharge as a
sergeant, the rank he held when he was arrested. They gave him 3 years
On Feb. 15, he will speak before the Maine state Legislature about
compensating the wrongfully convicted.
Maher was guilty of one social crime Friday -- he left his cell phone on
during the showing.
His wife, Melissa, is past her due date for their second child, a girl.
She will be named Aliza Karin, after attorney Kaplan and Karin Burns, the
law student who helped free him.
After Innocence continues its initial Boston run through Feb. 9.
When the film was finished, 150 people has been exonerated through DNA
Today, the number is 174.
(source: Lowell Sun (Massachusetts) )
DNA Samples Raise New Questions In Lunde Killing
DNA samples found in 13-year-old Sarah Lunde's mobile home don't match the
sex offender who reportedly confessed to killing her last spring, but
semen from her brother's 16-year-old friend was found on her comforter,
newly released documents show.
Investigators couldn't find anyone else's DNA after taking swabs from
Sarah's partly clad body, according to an analysis by the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement that was among court documents released
Friday. But her body had started to decompose when found in a fish pond
near her home April 16, which could have made it difficult to find DNA
The friend, whose name was being withheld because of his age and he wasn't
charged, was with Sarah's brother Andrew the morning of April 10 when the
girl vanished. Andrew, 18, told investigators the two had gone to Taco
Bell about midnight and were gone for about three hours. When they
returned to the mobile home, Sarah wasn't there, Andrew said.
David Onstott, a 37-year-old registered sex offender, has pleaded not
guilty to charges of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery.
According to court records, Onstott told detectives he choked Sarah and
said: "I did it. I'm guilty of murder." An autopsy found that Sarah died
from crushing blows to the head.
A telephone listing for Andrew's friend could not be found Saturday, and
prosecutors would not comment on the DNA results. But John Skye, a
spokesman for the public defender's office, said the DNA findings "raise
"People need to keep an open mind and wait until things work themselves
out, and not jump to conclusions," Skye said.
Authorities also found blood on a sweatshirt, a bath towel and a baseball
hat taken from Onstott's vehicle, though all matched Onstott's DNA. His
DNA was also on a metal level investigators seized as a possible weapon.
No blood was found on two pieces of Sarah's fitted bedsheet or on the
mobile home kitchen floor, and no foreign DNA was discovered on her
fingernails. Andrew's DNA was found on one piece of the sheet, but the
FDLE report does not specify the substance it came from.
On the other piece of the sheet, analysts found DNA from a male and a
female. They could not identify the female, but concluded the male DNA
does not match Onstott, Andrew's friend or any of Sarah's 3 brothers.
Authorities have never said publicly whether they think Onstott attempted
to rape Sarah inside the mobile home.
Andrew told investigators Onstott showed up at their trailer in rural
Ruskin between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. and asked for Sarah's mother, Kelly May,
whom he previously dated.
When Onstott learned May wasn't home, he took a beer bottle and left,
Andrew said. Andrew said the beer bottle wasn't there earlier, when Andrew
left to get food for Sarah, and concluded Onstott must have been there
while he and his friend were out.
Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty for Onstott. His next court
hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27.
(source: Associated Press)
Jury in Virginia Will Decide Life or Death for Moussaoui
Zacarias Moussaoui and nearly 500 potential jurors are set to gather in a
Northern Virginia courtroom on Monday, marking the start of the only trial
in the United States of a person charged with direct involvement in the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, has already
pleaded guilty to 6 counts of conspiracy in connection with the 2001
attacks in New York and Washington. As a result, the trial will be solely
over whether he is put to death by lethal injection or spends the
remainder of his life in prison.
That Mr. Moussaoui is an adherent of Al Qaeda, despises the United States
and would be thrilled to fly an airplane into a building filled with
American civilians is beyond dispute. He has proclaimed those views loudly
in several court appearances. But he has also said that he was not part of
the Sept. 11 plot and does not deserve or want to be executed.
Under federal law, violations that carry the death penalty require
separate proceedings to determine first whether someone is guilty and then
what the penalty should be. With his plea, the issues and arguments that
would have been at the heart of any trial over his guilt will now form the
basis of the sentencing phase of the proceeding, which will resemble in
almost every way an ordinary trial over guilt.
Mr. Moussaoui and his court-appointed lawyers, with whom he apparently
does not communicate, have offered different principal defenses as to why
he should not be executed. In motions before the court, the defense
lawyers have indicated they will seek to present testimony from medical
professionals that Mr. Moussaoui is mentally unstable.
Mr. Moussaoui has had several seemingly irrational outbursts in previous
hearings that caused Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to revoke her permission for
him to defend himself. Judge Brinkema has, however, ruled him competent to
stand trial and to enter his plea.
Mr. Moussaoui has asserted that he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11
attacks. He was in jail at the time, having been arrested weeks before on
suspicion of immigration violations when he was a student pilot in
Minnesota. When he asserted in court that he was eager to be a suicide
bomber, he said he was meant to be a part of a 2nd wave of attacks by
airplanes on public buildings.
"I came to the United States of America to be part, O.K., of a conspiracy
to use airplane as a weapon of mass destruction," he told Judge Brinkema
last April. "But this conspiracy was a different conspiracy than 9/11."
He said he was supposed to fly a plane into the White House if the United
States refused to release from jail Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a Muslim
cleric serving a life sentence for planning to blow up New York landmarks
Some Justice Department officials originally suggested that Mr. Moussaoui
was meant to be the 20th hijacker and that were it not for his arrest in
Minnesota he would have been aboard the hijacked plane that crashed in
Pennsylvania, the only 1 of the 4 planes involved with 4 hijackers instead
of 5. But most officials dropped that speculation even before Mr.
Moussaoui's guilty plea.
In making the case that Mr. Moussaoui deserves the death penalty,
prosecutors said it was indisputable that Mr. Moussaoui knew of the plans
for the Sept. 11 attacks and concealed that knowledge from investigators
after his arrest in Minnesota. Justice Department officials noted that in
his guilty plea Mr. Moussaoui acknowledged in a statement that he had
misled investigators when he told them he had enrolled in flight school
for the pleasure of flying, rather than to train to be part of a Qaeda
program to fly planes into buildings.
A principal part of the defense lawyers' strategy is to challenge the
government's claim that Mr. Moussaoui's silence contributed to the deaths
of those on Sept. 11, because, they suggest, the government knew more than
he did at the time of his arrest about Al Qaeda's plans.
Their filing said the government's case was "entirely speculative and
patently hypothetical; that is, something that Mr. Moussaoui could have
told them would have prevented the attacks." They added: "Substantial
evidence will be presented at trial that the U.S. government knew more
about Al Qaeda's plan to attack the United States than did Mr. Moussaoui."
The official commission that studied the terrorist attacks concluded that
leaders of Al Qaeda considered using Mr. Moussaoui as "a potential
substitute pilot" on Sept. 11 because of friction between other plotters,
but his arrest scuttled that possibility. The commission also speculated
that Qaeda leaders had contemplated using him as part of a "second wave"
of attacks and that they spent at least $50,000 to finance his flight
school training and other expenses in the United States after he entered
the country in early 2001.
Whatever the dispute about Mr. Moussaoui's connection to the Sept. 11
attacks, the government is making an effort to emphasize that aspect
before the jury. Prosecutors will present testimony from more than 40
relatives of victims of the 2001 attacks and plan to display photographs
of all the victims during the trial.
In addition, relatives of victims can view the trial beginning sometime
next month via closed-circuit television in courthouses in Boston;
Manhattan; Central Islip, N.Y.; Newark; Philadelphia; and in the
Alexandria, Va., courthouse.
The sentencing trial itself will be divided into two phases. 1st, the jury
will be asked to decide if Mr. Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty
by virtue of having committed an act that directly resulted in the deaths
If the decision is unanimous, the next question for the jury is to
consider if there are aggravating factors like whether the crime resulted
in multiple deaths and whether the deaths were cruel and the crime
especially heinous. At the same time, the jury will be required to
consider mitigating factors like the defendant's mental health.
If jurors are unanimous in finding that any aggravating factors outweighed
any mitigating factors, they will move to decide whether to recommend the
death penalty. If the jury is unanimous in favor of the death penalty, the
judge is obliged to impose that sentence.
Since the revision of federal death penalty laws, several defendants have
been sentenced to death; only 3 have been executed by lethal injection at
the government's execution chamber in Terre Haute, Ind., beginning with
Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, in June 2001.
(source: New York Times)
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