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Judge Could Rule Next Week on TV Coverage of Moussaoui's Trial - 2002-01-09

A federal judge in Virginia could decide as early as next week whether to allow live television coverage of the trial of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Mr. Moussaoui is the only person charged so far in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks. His trial is scheduled to begin in October.

Lawyers for Zacarias Moussaoui support a petition from Court TV to allow live broadcasts of his trial. Court TV is a cable television network that carries live and taped broadcasts of high-profile criminal trials around the country.

While state courts allow at least some trials to be broadcast on television, the federal court system has banned cameras from carrying legal proceedings either live or on videotape.

Several cable and broadcast networks are supporting Court TV's effort to have the Moussaoui trial broadcast live. Barbara Cochran is president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, one of the groups supporting the request for live coverage of the trial. She said, "The trial of the first person and so far the only person accused of being connected to that horrible event is of supreme public importance and the way for the public to have the greatest possibility of access to the trial proceedings is through television and radio."

At a hearing on the petition Wednesday at a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, one of Mr. Moussaoui's lawyers said televising the proceedings would provide what he called "an added layer of protection" to guarantee a fair trial.

But an attorney for the Justice Department argued that televising the trial might lead to witnesses altering their testimony. She also said televising the proceedings raises concerns about the safety of jurors, witnesses and the judge involved in the trial, arguing that their pictures would be available worldwide on the Internet.

Judge Leonie Brinkema presided at Wednesday's hearing and will also serve as the judge in the trial that is set to begin October 14. At one point, the judge seemed to agree with the prosecution that video images of jurors and others involved in the trial could pose a security risk. Judge Brinkema also suggested the trial might be carried live on radio but not television.

The judge says she will not make a ruling on the request for live television coverage until next week at the earliest.

Zacarias Moussaoui faces six charges including conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to use a jetliner as a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors say his actions prior to September 11 closely mirrored those of some of the 19 hijackers. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf during a court hearing last week. Four of the six charges could result in the death penalty upon conviction.