Judge Halts Moussaoui Trial after TSA Leaks
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered a halt to the death penalty case against confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui while she considers whether to throw the case out entirely.
According to the AP report,
Brinkema said a lawyer for the Transportation Security Administration sent e-mail to seven Federal Aviation Administration officials outlining the prosecution’s opening statements and providing commentary on government witnesses from the first day of testimony. That was in violation of her pretrial order barring witnesses from exposure to any opening statements or trial testimony. “An attorney for the TSA … egregiously breached that order,” she told jurors before excusing them until Wednesday. Of the seven, three were to testify for the government and four were potential defense witnesses.
Quite bizarre. The leaks should certainly be cause for severe punishment of the perpetrators. It’s unclear from the early reports how much actual damage was done, let alone enough to dismiss the case with prejudice.
Interestingly, according to the WaPo report, the prosecution team discovered the lapse Friday and brought it to the judge’s attention. Given that doing so could only have negative consequences for their case, this is quite commendable indeed.
Update (3/14): AFP reports,
A US judge declined to dismiss the death penalty trial of September 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, but dealt a huge blow to the prosecution by throwing out key evidence. US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the case could continue but dealt a stinging rebuke to the government, saying “I don’t think in the annals of criminal law there has ever been a case with as many significant problems.”
Brinkema’s ruling came after a controversy over apparent witness coaching by a government lawyer which the defense said prejudiced Moussaoui’s chances of a fair trial. She struck out all testimony from witnesses having to do with aviation issues, which the prosecution had said made up half of its case against Moussaoui.
A pretty harsh penalty but it was a pretty aggregious violation of her orders, too.
Via John Stevenson, who approves.