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Moussaoui Reverses Guilty Plea

Aired July 26, 2002 - 10:32   ET

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


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, another front in the war on terrorism: the courtroom. Zacarias Moussaoui delivered yet another surprise when he returned to court. He withdrew the bombshell guilty pleas that he had entered just one week earlier.
Our Deborah Feyerick is following this story for us from Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Zacarias Moussaoui changed his mind and his guilty plea, saying to admit to everything the government's accused him of would mean certain death. Exactly what he's trying to avoid.

FRANK DUNHAM, MOUSSAOUI STANDBY ATTORNEY: He found out what the repercussions of a guilty plea were, what it was he had to swallow so to speak, what facts he had to agree to in order to plead guilty. And I don't think he understood that he had to admit 9/11 in order to plead guilty.

FEYERICK: At the start of the hearing, Moussaoui tried pleading guilty to four of the six conspiracy counts of terrorism and hijacking. But as the judge went over each charge, it soon became clear Moussaoui wasn't ready to admit to a role in the September 11 attacks.

EDWARD MACMAHON, MOUSSAOUI STANDBY ATTORNEY: What you saw today in court is consistent with the way he's behaved in court every time. He said he was a member of al Qaeda, but that he had nothing to do with 9/11. So that has not changed one bit.

FEYERICK: With the guilty plea stalling, Moussaoui asked the judge for a 15 minutes recess. He said a prayer, accused Judge Leoni Brinkema of putting conditions to his plea, and told her, you want to link me to certain facts that will guarantee my death. Suicide he reminded the judge is prohibited under Islamic law.

And with that Moussaoui said, "I have to withdraw my guilty plea." He had hoped to avoid a trial and jump straight to the penalty phase, so he could tell the jury exactly what he did. Not in his words, but what the government says he did. And though he called an American jury his enemies, he said they would be honest enemies.

PROF. MARY CHEH, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: He's under a mistaken notion about what his position is. He's also under some sort of, I don't know, romantic or fanciful notion that if he just gets before a group of citizens and gets to tell his side, that they will spare his life.

FEYERICK: With the case now going to trial, Moussaoui will have a massive amount of evidence to sort through. If all goes according to schedule, opening statements are scheduled to begin as early as mid-October.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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