Appeals Court Uphold Moussaoui Conviction in 9/11 Attacks

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to stand trial in a U.S. court in the Sept. 11 attacks, rejecting arguments that he was denied access to evidence and the right to choose his own attorney.

Moussaoui, 41, is serving life in a federal prison in Colorado, after pleading guilty to helping plan the attacks. Since his sentencing, he has said he lied when testifying that he plotted to hijack a fifth jetliner on Sept. 11, 2001.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Moussaoui's claim that his right to choose his counsel was violated because the trial judge required that any attorney involved in his defense undergo a national security background check.

The appeal contended that it is unconstitutional to require government approval of a defendant's hired or pro bono counsel. It also argued that Moussaoui's rights were violated because his attorneys could not talk to him about potentially helpful evidence gleaned from classified material.

During arguments in the appeal last September, his lawyer argued Moussaoui's guilty plea was invalid because of the concerns. A federal prosecutor countered that Moussaoui got exactly what he wanted when he ignored his attorneys' advice and pleaded guilty before the evidence he had sought could be provided.

In the rejection Monday, the appeals court found Moussaoui "has failed to demonstrate that the government withheld exculpatory material that would have caused Moussaoui to forego his guilty plea and proceed to trial, much less evidence of his actual innocence."

The court also rejected Moussaoui's claim that his defense was hamstrung because his attorneys could not discuss classified material.

"The right to communicate with counsel at any point in the proceedings is not absolute," the judges wrote.

Moussaoui also argued the lower court erred when it concluded his guilty plea was "knowing and voluntary" because the court did not conduct a competency hearing before accepting his plea. The court rejected that argument.

Justin S. Antonipillai, an attorney who represented Moussaoui in the appeal, did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press.

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