Confessed al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was unexpectedly allowed to re-enter the federal courtroom Wednesday for the selection of a jury to decide whether he is executed or imprisoned for life.
Judge Leonie Brinkema had ordered Moussaoui barred from jury selection at a hearing on Tuesday because he refused to maintain courtroom decorum and indicated a determination to keep giving insult-laden speeches.
When Brinkema asked Moussaoui at a hearing on Tuesday how he would behave, he had responded with a diatribe in which he ripped President Bush and disavowed his French citizenship, calling the French "a nation of homosexual crusaders."
Brinkema had then ordered that he watch the remainder of jury selection on closed-circuit television from a special courthouse jail cell. That could take until March 6, when opening statements are scheduled.
Moussaoui's lawyers told reporters that they did not know prior to the defendant's entry into the courtroom that he had re-gained access. In fact, one of his lawyers arrived late and was surprised to see him in the room.
The court did not indicate what had happened overnight that caused the judge to change her mind about allowing Moussaoui in court, CBS News producer Josh Gross reports.
Just before the judge entered this morning, 12 prospective jurors were led into the courtroom and seated in the jury box. The nine men and three women included only one black, a middle-aged man. There was one white-haired man wearing a suit and tie. Others were younger and less formally dressed.
The lawyers were introduced, including a new presence at the defense table, jury consultant Marjorie Fargo. Then, with no announcement, a side door opened and Moussaoui, clad in a white knit cap and green prison jumpsuit with "Prisoner" in block letters on the back, quietly walked in and took his seat behind the defense lawyers.
The bearded 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent said nothing but almost immediately began craning his neck to scan the faces of the potential jurors.
Before leaving the courtroom for lunch recess today, Moussaoui turned to reporters and said "God curse America," CBS News' Josh Gross reported.
Gross said that of the 12 potential jurors interviewed today, nine were accepted and three were dismissed for a pool of 85. Of the nine, eight are white. The ninth is a Pakistani immigrant.
Two of the dismissals were due to financial reasons and the other dismissal was of a man who knew someone who died in the 9/11 Pentagon attack. The defense won the dismissal, saying that there is no way for a friend of a victim to sit on the jury in a capital case.
One question that got a lot of focus was how potential jurors responded on a questionnaire about their opinions of how the FBI handled the lead-up to 9/11 as well as cases such as that of Ruby Ridge.
Two potential jurors have been involved with aviation issues, one an airport design engineer and the other involved with airport runway impact studies, and the defense raised objections to both, but were over-ruled in both cases.
For the last week, lawyers on both sides have been reading 50-page questionnaires that 500 potential jurors from northern Virginia had completed. They were asked about their opinions of Islam, their reactions to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their feelings about the death penalty, among other things.
Last April, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiring with al Qaeda to fly aircraft into U.S. targets. He claimed he had no role in the Sept. 11 plot and instead was training for an aborted second wave of attacks.
To win the death penalty, prosecutors must prove Moussaoui was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. They plan to argue that the government could have thwarted the attacks if Moussaoui had not lied to FBI agents about his terrorist connections after his August 2001 arrest on immigration violations.
The defense contends the government knew more about the terrorists' plans than Moussaoui, and still was unable to prevent the attacks.