by Larry Margasak, Associated Press
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - John Walker Lindh's trial will likely start in late August, raising the odds the former Taliban soldier will be in court on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III set Aug. 26 for jury selection, but said Friday he might later consider a defense request to move the date beyond that historic September date.
On the day the Lindh case moved forward, Ellis handed down a 21-month prison sentence to a Virginia man who helped two of the September hijackers obtain fake Virginia identifications.
In a third case in the same federal courthouse, a man charged with carrying false identification near the Pentagon was released on $5,000 bond after a prosecutor indicated the case may be dropped. The man was arrested Monday night, just after the FBI issued its latest terrorism alert.
Lindh, 21, is charged in a 10-count indictment with conspiring to kill Americans, providing support to terrorists, including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, and using firearms during crimes of violence. Three of the charges carry a maximum life sentence and the other seven could bring an additional 90 years in prison.
Lindh, wearing a green prison suit, sat at the defense table throughout the federal court proceeding to schedule the trial date and pretrial proceedings. During a brief recess, he spoke with his attorneys and signed papers as his parents, Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker, sat in the second row.
Defense attorney George Harris asked the judge for a Sept. 16 trial date to get past Sept. 11, saying the defense might be presenting its side of the case on or near the anniversary.
Harris said there was no link between the attacks and the Lindh case, but contended that Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to leave the implication there was a connection. The lawyer argued for a Sept. 16 trial date.
"There will be memorial services. There will be a great deal of genuine emotion in this country," Harris argued. "The government has attempted to make that connection (between the trial and the attacks). For us to be in trial at that time is prejudicial to the defendant."
Ellis told Harris, "I may be persuaded by the force of your argument. You may revisit this point" as the August date approaches.
The judge, however, said he rejected defense concerns that pretrial publicity would harm Lindh's case and told Harris he would ensure that no jurors would be selected who formed an opinion about the case.
The Virginia man who aided the Sept. 11 hijackers, Luis Martinez-Flores, had pleaded guilty in December to one count of document fraud.
The Falls Church, Va. man admitted he falsely certified that Hani Hanjour and Khalid Almihdhar, hijackers on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon, were Virginia residents. The hijackers paid him $100.
At a sentencing hearing Friday, prosecutor John Morton said the defendant's lies about potential imminent attacks on East Coast targets were brought to the attention of President Bush, Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller.
"Hundreds of hours were wasted by investigators dealing with Mr. Martinez's misstatements," Morton said.
In the third case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan ordered Imad Abdel-Fattah Hamed of Manassas, Va., released on $5,000 bond and limited his travel to the Washington, D.C. area until his arraignment. But the prosecutor indicated the case of the man arrested near the Pentagon - just after the alert - may be dropped.
"I'm not sure that this case will actually make it that far," said Morton, the assistant U.S. attorney.
According to court papers filed by the FBI, Hamed and a passenger drove a red tow truck past signs that ban commercial vehicles on a highway which passes within yards of the Pentagon.
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State police stopped them and found several false identifications and a cashier's check for $12,700.