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Moussaoui to Represent Himself at Trial - 2002-06-13

The man U.S. authorities believe was supposed to be the 20th hijacker on September 11 has won the right to act as his own defense attorney at his trial later this year.

Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that alleged terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is competent enough to act as his own attorney in court.

Mr. Moussaoui faces murder conspiracy and terrorism charges in connection with the September 11 attacks. During Thursday's hearing, Mr. Moussaoui denied involvement in the terror plot that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. He said the U.S. government knew he was not in contact with the hijackers.

Mr. Moussaoui had previously requested that his defense lawyers be dismissed because, he said, they were conspiring with government prosecutors to ensure his execution.

Mr. Moussaoui's defense team has argued their client suffers from mental problems. But a court-appointed psychiatrist said previously he did not think Mr. Moussaoui was mentally ill after interviewing him for two hours.

Frank Dunham, a member of the defense team, says, "Obviously, we were working as hard for this man as we know how to do as defense attorneys. And, as you heard the judge, we put together an experienced team with nationally recognized experts in death penalty litigation. We do not know why Mr. Moussaoui believes the way he does. It is that belief that caused us to question his mental status and ask for the [mental] exam.

Judge Brinkema asked the defense attorneys to remain on the case even though they have put in a request to be dismissed.

The decision to allow Mr. Moussaoui to represent himself comes one day after the judge ruled the defendant will not have access to classified prosecution evidence about aviation security measures for fear they could wind up in the hands of terrorists.

Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested in August after raising suspicions among instructors at a flight school in Minnesota. He faces six conspiracy counts, four of which carry the death penalty upon conviction. His trial is expected to begin later this year.