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Moussaoui Trial Halted As Judge Considers Legal Misconduct

The U.S. judge in the sentencing trial of confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui has told a government attorney that she violated a court order and could be held in civil or criminal contempt.

Judge Leonie Brinkema Tuesday admonished the lawyer, Carla Martin, whom the prosecution acknowledges improperly coached witnesses. The judge instructed the attorney to return to court with her own lawyer.

On Monday, Judge Brinkema suspended the proceedings after discovering that court rules on protecting witness testimony were violated. The judge is now questioning the witnesses, without a jury present, in order to assess what to do next.

Judge Brinkema has several options for how to proceed - including removing the death penalty option, barring the witnesses from testifying, or declaring a mistrial.

Moussaoui already faces life in prison for pleading guilty to being an al-Qaida conspirator. But prosecutors are seeking the death penalty - saying that when he was arrested in August 2001, Moussaoui withheld key information that could have prevented the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.