You prepare your case with care. You study the elements of the crimes charged. You parse the evidence of which you aware, hoping that something like a defense will emerge. The trial begins and the pieces begin to fall into place. For a time, it looks as though you might actually do your client some good.
And then he decides to testify.
The decision about whether to testify is always the client's. Defense counsel can play grand tactician all he or she wants, but, in the end, the decision on whether to plea, whether to try the case to court or jury, and whether to testify belong solely to the client. Lawyers are mere advisers at this point, and must be prepared for their clients to reject the lawyer's advice.
You can almost hear the groans of defense counsel in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. On trial to determine whether he shall live or die, the defense did a good job meeting the Government's case. Indeed, the case was nearly thrown out after a hot-headed Government lawyer violated a sequestration order.
Moussaoui, as we know, has pleaded guilty to six counts arising from the September 11 suicide bombing of the World Trade Center. Prosecutors now seek to have him put to death. Mr. Moussaoui, they contend, withheld information from federal officials when detained by immigration officials weeks before the attack. Had he come clean, the attack might have been prevented.
So to the witness stand Moussaoui strutted yesterday. He denied being the intended 20th bomber on September 11, 2001. (Of the four planes hijacked, three were commandeered by crews of five, one had but four hijackers. Someone apparently missed their flight.) So far so good for the defense.
Then Moussaoui all but confessed to the unsolved murder of Jimmy Hoffa. He and shoe-bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack yet another plane and run it into the White House, he testified. The claim smacks of grandiose self-delusion. Richard Reid, arrested after trying to light a bomb in his shoe aboard a transatlantic flight in December 2001 is an incongruous figure -- call him the Forrest Gump of international terrorism.
The defense had contended at trial that Moussaoui was a fringe figure in al Qaeda. Moussaoui, enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame, wants to make the most of it. He'd like to be a martyr for Islam, no doubt. According to The New York Times, he was all cooperation when questioned by the Government, becoming restless only when questioned by his own lawyers.
The jury may well vote to execute Moussaoui, but will that be because he is the terrorist he pretended to be on the stand, or because they simply want to put this deluded liar out of his misery?