A U.S. judge entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui Tuesday. But the plea was entered only after a confusing exchange between the judge and the defendant, who is acting as his own attorney.
Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema entered the not guilty plea on Mr. Moussaoui's behalf at an arraignment where government prosecutors presented a slightly revised indictment. Mr. Moussaoui is the only person charged in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks and faces conspiracy charges that could bring the death penalty if he is convicted.
Acting as his own attorney, Mr. Moussaoui first said he had no plea to enter then said he wanted to plead no contest. But the judge warned him that pleading no contest to the charges against him would result in his conviction, and Judge Brinkema then entered the innocent plea on his behalf.
During his first arraignment in January, Mr. Moussaoui also refused to enter a plea, saying he was doing so "in the name of Allah." A not guilty plea was also entered on his behalf at that time.
Alan Yamamoto is one of the stand-by attorneys appointed by the court to help Mr. Moussaoui. But he says his client is refusing to ask for help and seems determined to act on his own behalf. "If he is unwilling to speak to counsel and intends to continue on his own, at some point the court may have to step in if it feels that Mr. Moussaoui is not receiving a fair trial," he said.
Mr. Moussaoui has asked for help from Houston lawyer Charles Freeman. He was present at Tuesday's arraignment but is not registered to practice law in Virginia and has not formally asked to represent Mr. Moussaoui as yet.
The Moussaoui trial is scheduled to begin later this year.