November 23rd, 2009
05:08 PM ET


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/11/13/911families.reaction/story.khalid.sheikh.mohammed.gi.jpg caption="Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly confessed to being the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks after being waterboarded." width=300 height=169]
Jeffrey Toobin | BIO
CNN Senior Analyst
The New Yorker

Sometime in the next few months, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four confederates will be indicted in Manhattan federal court, and the case will arrive at a turning point: the designation of the judge who will preside over their trial. The selection is usually made by a draw from a wheel in the office of the court clerk, but prosecutors have also been known to try to game the system by telling the clerk that a new case is factually related to an older one that had been presided over by a favored judge. In any event, the judicial assignment is sure to be daunting and lengthy. There will be no shortage of advice for the putative Lance Ito of Ground Zero, but the winner of this particular derby might be well advised to pay a visit to Pierre N. Leval.

“I’ve had the same mailing address for almost my whole career,” Leval said the other day in his chambers, on Pearl Street. A former Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District courthouse, Leval, who is seventy-three, was named to the federal trial bench by Jimmy Carter in 1977 and to the court of appeals by Bill Clinton in 1993. He took senior status, with a reduced caseload, in 2002, but he continues to hear cases as a judge on the Second Circuit. Still, for all those years around Foley Square, he is best known for presiding over one of the most consequential trials in federal history: the Pizza Connection case.

The trial concerned a diaspora of Sicilian heroin entrepreneurs who operated out of various slice-and-Coke emporiums in locations ranging from Queens to rural Illinois. (Al Dente’s, in Forest Hills, remains open, under new management.) “The problem in the case was that the government didn’t have a lot of actual heroin to show the jury,” Leval said. “So the case was mostly a series of wiretaps of phone calls where the callers talked about heroin, and then F.B.I. agents testifying about how they followed the defendants around from place to place. Most of the time, it was boring.” He added, “People also got murdered from time to time in that case.”


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