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Alleged 9/11 Conspirator Tries to Pleads Guilty

Aired July 18, 2002 - 14:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the surprising turn of events today in the arraignment of Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone man charged in connection with the September 11 attacks.

Let's turn to Deborah Feyerick live outside the courthouse. She came running outside the courthouse after that bizarre situation -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, Zacarias Moussaoui today tried pleading guilty to the charges against him, but the judge refused to accept this guilty plea, giving him one week to think it over. She said if at that time you still want to plead guilty, then I will let you plead guilty. She said, however, what you are pleading guilty is not just to bits and pieces of what you think you have done or you are responsible for, you will be pleading to the entire indictment against you, the conspiracy charges, the charges to use planes as weapons of mass destruction. And so she said, look, Mr. Moussaoui, you think this over.

Mr. Moussaoui was increasingly frustrated and very agitated in court, more so than he has been in the past. He blurted out at one point: "I am a member of al Qaeda. I pledge bayat," the oath of allegiance, "to Osama bin Laden." He said that he is part of an ongoing conspiracy and has been since 1995 up until today. He said about 9/11, "I know exactly who did it, I know which group, and I know how it was decided."

The judge trying to step all over him and tell him, do not speak, do not speak, telling him that anything you say in this court can be used against you by U.S. attorneys. And at one point, she actually got up, said this court is in recess, and had the marshals take him away from the podium, the open microphone, just so that at least he would have some -- be able to preserve some aspect of his case if, in fact, he does have a case.

Zacarias Moussaoui had said to the judge, look, there are two phases in a trial, as I understand them. And remember, he is representing himself. He said there is the guilt phase, I plead guilty. There is also the penalty phase. Let's get on to that. He is facing the death penalty. He still thinks that if he pleads guilty, then he's going to be able to have a trial. So it was very clear that his understanding of the law was not particularly good.

And just to give you an idea of the volume of evidence, because this was also something that was discussed in court today, Kyra, the volume of evidence according to one of his standby counsel, one of the lawyers he has fired because he thinks he is conspiring against him, there is so much evidence the lawyer said that he would -- that it would fill up the entire jail. And this is evidence that Moussaoui has not even been able to look at yet.

This case allegedly goes to trial in three months. It means that if he starts preparing now, there is a slight possibility he may get through part of it. But the judge was trying to get the government to at least streamline some of the most critical evidence, but that point now may be moot, as we meet here back in a week to see whether, in fact, he does plead guilty -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it will be very interesting to see what happens next -- Deb Feyerick, thank you.

Well, joining us from New York with some legal insight on this case, kind of a bit of a bizarre case, CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. All right, Jeffrey, here we go, again. It has been a few minutes since we last spoke.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

PHILLIPS: Are you still confused?

TOOBIN: Well, Kyra, I have been speaking to the experts of the Death Penalty Information Center trying to sort this out a little bit. And what I think the situation is is Moussaoui does have an absolute right to plead guilty to the indictment. If he pleads to every count against him, there is really nothing the government can do to stop him.

But as Moussaoui said in court, that would only move us to the next phase of the case, which would be the penalty phase. There, a jury would be selected. There would be a whole mini-trial beginning and ending with the question of: Should Moussaoui be executed? This is, of course, very unusual. When somebody pleads guilty, usually it's part of a deal to spare him of the death penalty. But here, it seems that there is not -- there is no deal in the works. Moussaoui isn't negotiating with anyone.

So if this plea goes forward, if he pleads guilty to the full indictment next week, then at some point in the not too distant future, the judge would have jury selection for the question of a penalty phase to decide whether Moussaoui got life in prison or execution.

PHILLIPS: And if he pleads guilty, he has got to plead guilty to all counts.

TOOBIN: Well, in the absence of some sort of an agreement with the government, that's right. If you just want to plead guilty, you can't pick and choose what you want to plead guilty to, because the other charges would be outstanding against you. So if he wants to plead guilty, he has to just swallow the whole indictment, but he seems more than willing to do that. PHILLIPS: And the judge is saying, you know, think about the ramifications, consider entering plea negotiations with the government. Is this somebody who can actually enter into negotiations? It doesn't seem like he is in that mind-set.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, it's very strange, Kyra. I have read -- you know, he has filed about 100 motions, you know, these handwritten motions from jail, and as Deb Feyerick describing him, speaking from -- speaking in the courtroom. I mean, it's not that he is raving. He is not claiming to be from Mars. All he is doing is saying what the government charged me with, I did. That does not seem to be evidence of insanity, and that's the only grounds on which he shouldn't -- he would not be allowed to represent himself. He just seems to be exactly what the government said he is, a fanatical follower of Osama bin Laden. But that doesn't make you legally insane.

PHILLIPS: And we have talked about this whole idea of the possibility that he just wants to be a martyr. He just -- he wants to be forced to die.

TOOBIN: Well, if you believe, as the government has charged, that you know, he was going to be the 20th hijacker, he was willing to kill himself for the cause. He seems to be willing to kill himself through the intermediary of the United States government; that is be executed for the cause. But it's -- you know, you are just as dead one way or the other.

PHILLIPS: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks again.

TOOBIN: OK.

PHILLIPS: All right.

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