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Surprise Plea Ends One Trial

Media Center plans continue at Federal Courthouse

July 18, 2002

American Taliban fighter John Philip Walker Lindh’s guilty plea this week caught everyone by surprise and means that the courthouse media center will not open in August as planned.

"We were all surprised and the media center will not open on Aug. 17, as we had originally planned,” said Barbara Gordon, the public information officer for the city of Alexandria. “However, the work that we have begun will continue because we still have another trial to prepare for this fall.”

Lindh entered a guilty plea at the July 15 hearing that had been scheduled for the purpose of hearing a motion to dismiss statements he made during the first 54 days he was being held after his arrest in Afghanistan in November, 2001.

Lindh’s attorneys had planned to argue that their client was deprived of counsel and thus, his statements to military and Department of Justice personnel should not be admissible at his trial. Instead, the 21-year-old Marin County, California, native agreed to plead guilty to two felonies, thus avoiding a life sentence.

LINDH PLED guilty to two felonies: that he supplied help to the Taliban and, that he carried explosives. “I plead guilty. I plead guilty, Sir,” Lindh said to Judge T. S. Ellis, III, in federal court on Monday.

Under the terms of his deal with the U. S. Attorney’s office, Lindh will serve two consecutive 10-year prison terms. Lindh was forced to explain to the judge what exactly he did while with the Taliban.

“I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban last year from about August until November. During the course of doing so I carried a rifle and two grenades,” Lindh said.

U. S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty was pleased with the plea. “…This case proves that the criminal justice system can be an effective tool in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

THE PLEA WAS approved by President George W. Bush and by Attorney General John Ashcroft. “Today marks an important victory in America’s war on terrorism,” Ashcroft said. “By going to Afghanistan and fighting shoulder to shoulder alongside the Taliban, John Walker Lindh allied himself with terrorists who reject our values of freedom and democracy and turned his back on the United States of America. He will now spend the next 20 years in prison; nearly as long as he has been alive.”

Lindh will be sentenced in October, about the same time that the Zacarias Moussaoui trial will begin. The work on the media center, however, will continue. The grass has been removed from the 1.2-acre piece of property on Jamison Avenue, across from the courthouse and the plastic covering and gravel are being laid. Also, television stations have contracted with a company to construct a platform for cameras.

“The opening of the media center will be delayed and will be contingent on when the U. S. Marshal’s office decides to close Jamison and Elizabeth Lane,” Gordon said. “We are waiting to hear from them about this. However, the Moussaoui trial is going forward and we still have to have accommodations for the media who will be covering it.”