Stunned that he was sentenced to life in prison rather than execution, Zacarias Moussaoui now believes he could get a fair trial from a US jury. Too late, the judge says.
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema quickly rejected a motion the confessed al-Qaeda conspirator filed on Monday to withdraw his guilty plea and get a new trial.
In his motion, Moussaoui said he lied on the witness stand March 27 when he reversed four years of denials and claimed he was to have hijacked a fifth jetliner on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed it into the White House, "even though I knew that was a complete fabrication."
The 37-year-old Frenchman blamed his behavior on the effects of solitary confinement, his inability to get a Muslim lawyer and his misunderstanding of the US justice system. He said he was "extremely surprised" by his life sentence from a federal court jury last week.
"I had thought I would be sentenced to death based on the emotions and anger toward me for the deaths on Sept. 11," he explained in an affidavit.
"But after reviewing the jury verdict and reading how the jurors set aside their emotions and disgust for me and focused on the law and the evidence ... I now see that it is possible that I can receive a fair trial even with Americans as jurors," he said.
Last Wednesday, the jury of nine men and three women rebuffed the government's appeal for the death penalty for Moussaoui, the only person charged in the US in the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings of four commercial jetliners that killed nearly 3,000 people. On Thursday, Brinkema gave him six life sentences, to run as two consecutive life terms.
At sentencing, Brinkema told him he could not appeal the conviction he got when he pleaded guilty in April 2005. She said he could appeal the life term but "I believe it would be an act of futility."
On Monday, Brinkema said federal rules prohibit withdrawing a guilty plea after sentencing.