Suspect Is Key to Pace in 9/11 Case

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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has said he was ready to confess to orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks, a move that would make his case relatively easy for prosecutors. But if Mr. Mohammed decides to work with his American lawyers to stall the case, he has plenty of tools at his disposal, criminal lawyers say.

When Mr. Mohammed appeared before a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in December, he said he and his four co-defendants wanted the proceedings over quickly. "We don't want to waste time," he told the judge. "We want to enter a plea."

Now the U.S. is scrapping military tribunals for the five men and bringing them before a civilian court in New York. If Mr. Mohammed acts to speed his own execution and await what he asserts is glorious martyrdom with a guilty plea in federal court, that would bypass a trial, eliminate the need to select a jury and lead to sentencing probably before the end of 2010.

"I think the most likely scenario is these guys don't make any bones about it and they confess their involvement," said Harry Schneider, a Seattle lawyer who helped defend Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, in a military commission. "They are proud of what they did."

"Typically, it takes a year from indictment to trial" in the Manhattan federal courts, said David Kelley, the Manhattan U.S. attorney during the George W. Bush administration. "This case is a lot more complex. There's going to be a lot of pretrial litigation, and that timeline may double."

Mr. Kelley, who was a leader of the Justice Department's 9/11 investigation and now is a partner with Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, said "first and foremost" among the issues Mr. Mohammed could raise is the conduct of the government.

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