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Judge Warns Against Prejudicial Testimony

April 10, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ A judge warned prosecutors Monday against relying too heavily on emotional eyewitness accounts from families of Sept. 11 victims to influence the jury in the death penalty trial of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

The word of caution by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema came after complaints from the defense lawyers that a stream of victim-impact testimony last week would be overly prejudicial to the jury that must decide if Moussaoui is to be executed.

On Monday, prosecutors told the judge they would display fewer family photos and would try to keep testimony from each witness under 30 minutes.

Brinkema acknowledged that there is no way to avoid emotional testimony in this case, but reminded them that overly prejudicial testimony can be grounds for overturning a death sentence on appeal.

``You may pay a price for that down the road,″ she told prosecutors.

The first witness on Monday, a Massachusetts assistant principal named John Creamer, described the impact of his wife Tara’s death on the couple’s two children.

Creamer said he sought advice from a child psychologist on informing his then 4-year-old son about his mother’s death.

``How do you tell child their mom is dead and she isn’t coming back?″ Creamer said, fighting back tears.

Prosecutors have said that about 45 such witnesses will testify _ compared, they noted _ with the nearly 3,000 people who died that day.

The jury already has heard about a half-dozen painful accounts of the human toll exacted in the airborne attacks. They included a New York City firefighter whose friend and mentor was killed when he was struck by the body of a person who jumped from one of World Trade Center towers to avoid being burned alive and the suicide note of a woman who lost her husband when his plane crashed into the towers.

Moussaoui is the only person charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. The jury deciding his sentencing fate has already declared him eligible for the death penalty by determining that his actions caused at least one death on 9/11.

Even though he was in jail in Minnesota at the time of the attacks, the jury ruled that lies told by Moussaoui to federal agents a month before the attacks kept them from identifying and stopping some of the hijackers.

Now they must decide whether Moussaoui deserves execution or life in prison.

Defense lawyers hope the jury will spare Moussaoui’s life because of his limited role in the attacks, evidence of mental illness and because they say his execution would only fuel his dream of martyrdom.


Associated Press writer Michael J. Sniffen contributed to this report.

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