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Is Moussaoui case over?

The government’s headline-making prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui — the only person so far convicted of any crime related to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — will not be tested in the Supreme Court, at least for some time.  The time to file an appeal ran out on July 30, and his court-appointed lawyers have since advised the Fourth Circuit Court that Moussaoui did not authorize them to file a petition for review by the Justices.  The attorneys have now been allowed to withdraw from the case.

More than eight years ago, in December 2001, Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, was charged with six counts of conspiracy in connection with the terrorist assaults.  At various points in the case, he has been referred to as the “20th hijacker,” although that was never proven because he pleaded guilty in April 2005.   The jury, after seven days of deliberation, refused prosecutors’ request to impose the death penalty; he was then sentenced to life in prison without the chance for release.

Once before, his defense attorneys tried to take the case to the Supreme Court, after the Fourth Circuit Court had turned down a request for his attorneys to directly question others allegedly involved in the 9/11 plot, who were being held by the U.S. government pending their prosecution (which has not yet gone to trial; it remains unclear where they will be tried).  The Supreme Court refused to hear that challenge on March 21, 2005.  It was after that that Moussaoui chose to plead guilty to all charges.

While the trial judge at one point had barred prosecutions from seeking the death penalty, the Fourth Circuit restored that option, but the jury would not support that sentence.

Last January, the Fourth Circuit rejected Moussaoui’s challenge to his guilty plea, upheld his life sentence, and refused to send the case back to the District Court to consider revelations about classified information that had been submitted to the court during his trial and later disclosed publicly.  After the Circuit Court denied en banc review on March 2 of this year, his defense lawyers three times asked and received extensions of time to file a certiorari petition to the Supreme Court.  The latest extension allowed until July 30 to file the petition.

In their motion to withdraw, the defense lawyers on Aug. 5 told the Circuit Court: “After being advised in writing of his right to seek review in the Supreme Court, Mr. Moussaoui did not authorized counsel to file a petition for a writ of certiorari in this case.  The July 30, 2010, deadline for the filing of a petition for certiorari has now expired.”

Besides requesting permission to leave the case, the attorneys asked the Circuit Court to notify Moussaoui that he had the right — within one year after the June 30 deadline expired — to seek habeas relief in a U.S. District Court.  The Circuit Court made no mention of that request in granting permission to withdraw.